Relations between the Central Asian countries and Russia integrated with each other in many aspects and one of them is labor migration from Central Asia to Russia. Labor migration from Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan to Russia is essentially important for these remittance dependent countries in Central Asia. For international migrants Russia is the second popular destination after the United States (47 million), as 12 million migrants arrive to Russia annually (UN, 2016). Russia is an important remittance source country: more than 60% of remittance to Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan comes from Russia (WB, 2016). In terms of remittance amount in dollar value, none of the Central Asian countries enters top 10 of the world ranking, but in terms of remittance to GDP ratio, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan enter top 5 ranking with 28.8% and 25%, respectively, as for Uzbekistan, the ratio is 5% (WB, 2016).
2014 could be considered a fruitful year for Uzbekistan in its relations with Russia. By writing off Uzbekistan’s $865 million debt, Russia made Uzbekistan to drop its share claim over the Russian Diamond Fund; additionally, Uzbekistan has started the negotiation process on joining the Eurasian Economic Union (EEU) (Ramani, 2016). Moreover, Russia and Uzbekistan have started to work on a migration agreement aiming to improve the working conditions of Uzbek migrant workers in Russia. In November 2013 the former President of Uzbekistan, Islam Karimov, during the course of his meeting with the Council Speaker of Russian Federation, Valentina Matviyenko, complained about the difficult working conditions, which Uzbek migrants have to go through. In order to improve the situation, Uzbek side has proposed an organized recruitment program that would provide guaranteed employment and protection of Uzbek migrants’ rights under the governmental agreement in early 2014 (Hashimova, 2016).
In 2014 November officials from Uzbekistan and Russia announced that they were working on a draft agreement that would benefit both sides and would improve work and living conditions of Uzbek migrants. According to the Federal Migration Service of Russia, more than 2 million labor migrants from Uzbekistan are officially working in Russia. However, unofficial estimations predict that currently, the number of Uzbek migrant workers in Russia is between 5-8 million (Gazeta.uz, 2014). Migrant workers who are working illegally are usually paid less, work in difficult conditions, and their social and labor rights are often not protected. This agreement aims to provide an opportunity for Uzbek migrants to travel to Russia and to work in better conditions under the protection of both, host and home, countries.
Uzbek Migrant Workers in the Russian Labor Market
The amount of Central Asian migrants in the Russian labor market increased dramatically after 2006 due to simplification of the procedure of obtaining work permit for the citizens of the CIS countries. Profile of the Central Asian migrant workers, which is not much different from the profile of Uzbek migrant workers, has changed over the years.
The total number of foreign labor migrants jumped from 702.500 in 2005 to 2.425.900 in 2008, where the share of Central Asian migrants increased from 18% in 2005 to 50% in 2008 and reached 63% in 2014. Although the total number of foreign labor migrants who hold a work permit started to fall after 2008. Reaching 1 million in 2014, the share of Central Asian migrants continued to rise (Federal State Statistics Service, 2015). It looks like Uzbek migrants benefited the most from the simplification of the procedure of obtaining a work permit, where their share comprised 40% of the total number of foreign migrants in 2014. In addition to that, Uzbek migrants had become the largest foreign worker group in Russia in the last 5 years (Federal State Statistics Service, 2015). Furthermore, there have been some negative changes: new wave of migrant workers from Central Asia has become younger, less educated and poorly speaks in Russian. Compared to the previous groups, they tend to stay longer in Russia and more often try to bring their families along with them (Parpiev, 2015).
Table 2. Migrants by Country of origin and occupational skills, (in %) 2013
Managers of organizations
Personnel in different sectors
Skilled workers in different sectors
Source: Migrants at the Russian Labor Market by Denisenko, Varshavskaya, 2013, Table 7.
In terms of occupation, almost half of Uzbek labor migrants are unskilled, while the share of high-skilled professionals was only 0.6% in 2013. The situation is more or less the same for Tajik and Kyrgyz migrant workers. The bulk of labor migrants are either unskilled workers or skilled workers and personnel working in different sectors. The proposed migration agreement could be beneficial for the skilled workers and for the group of personnel working in different sectors under the assumption that they are earning relatively good income to pay for the work permit.
Therefore, travelling to Russia under the governmental agreement could strengthen the protection of migrants’ rights and improve their working conditions. However, increased price of the work permit and complicated bureaucracy are making it less beneficial and difficult for some unskilled migrant workers to work legally in Russia, forcing them to work illegally. Furthermore, it is easier and cheaper for employers to hire illegal foreign workers, as business owners find it more flexible to arrange verbal agreements rather than contracts (Hashimova, 2016). Therefore, legally hiring an unskilled foreign worker who is under the governmental protection would cost more than hiring an illegal one, making some employers hesitant to hire a legal foreign employee.
Regarding the developments on the preparation of the migration agreement, Uzbek government in consultation with Russia has finalized the draft version of the document and sent it to Russia for consideration in December 2015 (Migrant.ru, 2015). Nevertheless, there is a number of unknown details, such as the maximum amount of permits, since it is unlikely that recruitment services would be initially provided for more than 2 million people. In addition to that, issues, such as working mechanism of the agreement on how and who is to handle the paper work (applications, communication and bureaucratic procedures), parallel integration with legal regulations of the EEU are still not solved, delaying analysis of the benefits of the agreement.
For instance, if the number of permits is too small, then in a short term, it will not have a significant effect over the working conditions of Uzbek migrants. Furthermore, on the topic of the operational management of the agreement, it is not clear which institution is to take responsibility and how this new recruitment process is organized and the legal basis is prepared. Moreover, the initiation has started before the establishment of the EEU and the draft version was sent only to Russia in December 2015. Thus, it is also unclear whether the agreement would cover the member states of the EEU, and if not, whether Russia is to consider the opinion of the other member countries regarding the migration agreement.
The warm atmosphere in bilateral relations between Russia and Uzbekistan in 2014 brought up the migration agreement on the table, and both sides has worked on the draft version of the agreement. Currently, Uzbekistan is waiting for Russia’s response regarding the draft document in order to initiate the agreement. Taking into account the economic situation of both countries, it can be concluded that the agreement would be beneficial for both sides: Russian businesses need cheap labor, while Uzbek migrants are looking for job opportunities abroad. However, in order avoid the creation of another bureaucratic barrier, the recruitment process and the process of obtaining work permits should be simple. Regarding the authorities, responsible for regulation of the recruitment procedure, joint governmental institutions which would specifically work with the migrants and link them with the government bodies and businesses in Russia, regulate the selection, arrival and other procedures could be created.
Denisenko, M.B. , Varshavskaya, Y. J. (2013). Migrants at the Russian Labour Market: Characteristics, Status, Mobility. National Research University- Higher School of Economics. Search Working Paper.
Zhengizkhan Zhanaltay is a research fellow in the Eurasian Research Institute at H.A.Yassawi Kazakh Turkish International University. Zhengizkhan completed his bachelor’s degree at international relations department of KIMEP University in 2010.