Wednesday, April 28, 2021

Central Asian Countries Increasingly Varied in Their Migration Patterns to Russia, Kazakhstan Scholar Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, April 26 – Most Russians and many other observers treat Central Asian migrant workers in Russia, Caress Schenk says, but there is a large and increasing diversity among them reflecting differences in the economies, social systems, and coercive capacities of the countries there. As migration rebounds after the pandemic, those differences will only increase.

            In an interview with the Central Asian Bureau for Analytic Research, the political scientist at Nazarbayev University, says that people “often fall into the trap of treating all Central Asian countries the same, and they are not,” something that is perhaps especially true regarding migration (

            Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan, the major donor countries, differ “in terms of why migrants go to Russia, how free they are to go, and how they are treated when they return to their own countries.” Kyrgyzstan is “comparatively” freer than the other two, although Uzbekistan is far looser than it was under Islam Karimov.

            As for Kazakhstan, Schenk suggests, the government is far more concerned about migration as a situation that threatens to produce “a brain drain,” a reflection that many more of its migrants to Russia are more educated and thus the loss of which to Kazakhstan represents a threat.

            The situation is Tajikistan is complicated by the country’s need for remittances and its fear that Tajiks who travel abroad will be radicalized as far as religion and politics are concerned. But despite these differences, many Central Asians now see migrant labor as a way of life, not just for survival but to achieve money to advance their status at home.

            After the pandemic wanes, she continues, Central Asian migration to Russia will bounce back. But a major issue is going to be the likelihood that Moscow will require migrants to be vaccinated against the coronavirus. That is likely to have two consequences for the flow, she suggests.

            On the one hand, that will likely lead to an increase in the share of Central Asian migrant workers in Russia without legal status. And on the other, it is likely to spark a black market in fake vaccination certificates that Central Asians can show Russian employers without ever getting their shots.

            To the extent that happens, it could easily entail massive epidemiological consequences both in Russia and in the Central Asian countries, something that will make the future of migration from Central Asia to Russia even more fraught as a political issue. 

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