Central Asia: Who benefits from labor migration?


BISHKEK (TCA) — External labor migration in general is beneficial to Central Asia countries, because it contributes to the solution of many acute social and economic problems. Labor migration is beneficial both to host countries, such as Kazakhstan, and to Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Turkmenistan, the main suppliers of labor force.

According to official statistics, remittances from labor migrants in Kyrgyzstan are about 30% of the country’s GDP and in Tajikistan 37%.

However, labor migration could bring more benefits if the problems related to its regulation are resolved.


Kazakhstan is a recipient country for labor migration in Central Asia. According to official data, the influx of labor migrants from other countries is observed mainly in the southern and western regions. The devaluation of the Russian ruble after the outbreak of the conflict between Russia and Ukraine and the subsequent western sanctions made Kazakhstan’s labor market more attractive.

Most of labor migrants are unskilled workers. To attract qualified specialists to the country, the Government created a favorable migration regime including simplified procedures for obtaining work permits for employers. As a result, the number of qualified foreigners with work permits has increased from 24 thousand in 2012 to more than 40 thousand last year.

The State perceives population outflow as a threat to the country’s economic security. According to the Statistics Committee of Kazakhstan, over the first nine months of 2018, 31.5 thousand people left Kazakhstan for permanent residence, which is 12% more than in the same period of 2017.

Measures to reduce migration should be developed for various segments of society, experts say. For instance, difference in the pension legislation in Russia and Kazakhstan was an important factor for the emigration to Russia for many Kazakhstan citizens several years ago. In addition, there were benefits for certain professions in Russia, which were canceled in Kazakhstan, sociologist Gulmira Ileuova told the Russian Information and Analytical Center for the Study of Socio-Political Processes. There is no such incentive for migration now, since the retirement age in Russia is also increasing.

Another category of potential migrants are well educated young people. To level this migration factor, the State should offer them competitive wages and social incentives.


Kyrgyzstan’s economy remains dependent on remittances from labor migrants. Over the first ten months of 2018, labor migrants transferred $2.24 billion to Kyrgyzstan, $160.2 million more compared to the same period of 2017, the National Bank of Kyrgyzstan reported.

More than 90% of remittances were from Russia followed by the United States — $21.8 million. According to statistics, the majority of migrants from Kyrgyzstan are engaged in unskilled labor in construction, trade and services sectors.

Most Kyrgyz migrants are from the southern regions. According to the State Migration Service of Kyrgyzstan, 265 thousand labor migrants (35%) are from Batken oblast, 227 thousand (27%) from Jalal-Abad oblast, 155 thousand from Osh oblast, and 11 thousand from the northern Chui oblast.

According to official data, 750 thousand of Kyrgyz citizens are outside the country for earnings, and 80% of them are in Russia and 10% in Kazakhstan. According to unofficial data, over one million are in labor migration.

The Government has developed a program to help migrants invest money in business projects in their homeland.

Entrepreneurs would receive preferential loans of up to one million soms for up to 36 months based on the “1+1” principle. That is, each som from remittances invested by a labor migrant will be supplemented by another som within the program.

Commercial banks will finance the concessional loans, and the government will subsidize interest rates.


Uzbekistan has become the 173rd IOM member in November. According to IOM Director General Antonio Vitorino, Uzbekistan is on one of the world’s oldest and most auspicious trade routes, so it has been crisscrossed by migrants since time immemorial. Uzbekistan is the most populous of the Central Asian states, and the last to join IOM, he added.

With a population of almost 33 million, the country is not only the most populous but also the most migrant-sending in the region. “Now with opening borders, it is also becoming a transit territory for migrants from neighboring countries. Its current high growth rates may eventually lead to it becoming a destination country for migrants,” the IOM said.

According to official data, over 2.6 million people, or almost 20% of economically active citizens, are working outside of Uzbekistan, Sputnik.uz news agency reported. Almost one million of them work in Russia.

According to the Central Bank of Russia’s report for the second quarter of 2018, remittances from Russia to Uzbekistan exceeded $1 billion for April-June, the largest amount among the Central Asia countries.

Positive changes in migration policy began after Shavkat Mirziyoyev became the President in 2016. Over one year, the Government adopted several decrees aimed at creating a legal framework to ensure the safety of migrant workers, expert Sayor Khojaeva said.

As most of Uzbekistan’s labor migrants leave for Russia, the governments of the two countries agreed on the organized recruitment of Uzbek citizens for work in Russia.

On December 10, the first official guest-worker group from Uzbekistan arrived in Bulgaria. They will work at a large confectionery factory according to the agreement signed by the Agency for External Labor Relations of Uzbekistan and the Bulgarian company, EurAsia Daily reported.


According to the World Bank, about two million Tajiks (20% of the population) live below the poverty line, and the economy of Tajikistan depends on remittances from labor migrants.

According to the Russian Central Bank, remittances from Russia to Tajikistan increased by $600 million in 2017 compared to 2016 and amounted to $2.5 billion, 37% of Tajikistan’s GDP in 2017. The largest amount of remittances was in 2013 — $4.15 billion.

Tajikistan’s authorities intend to create a special fund to attract investments of Tajik labor migrants. According to the country’s Investment Council, the fund should be transparent and all incoming money will flow into a centralized fund and public control over spending will be established.

Most of Tajik migrant workers are in Russia, Ukraine, Kyrgyzstan, and Kazakhstan, but they expect Tajik authorities offer them preferences in exchange for investments. High taxes impede their investments in the Tajik economy.

According to official data, up to one million Tajiks are working in Russia.


Turkmenistan has long been among the most closed states in the world, and labor migration statistics are not available there. According to local experts, due to the economic crisis, migration has become widespread in the country.

Many people go abroad, mainly to Turkey, in search of earnings. According to the Turkish Migration Service, about 25 thousand Turkmen migrants were officially registered in this country in 2016-2017. Thousands of Turkmenistan citizens lived in Turkey illegally.

According to rough estimates, from 11% to 16% of the economically active population of Turkmenistan went abroad in search of job. In Russia, labor migrants from Turkmenistan are working in the oil and gas regions of Western Siberia.

There is a shortage of food products and a sharp rise in fuel prices in Turkmenistan. The unemployment has reached 60%, the media reported.

In June 2018, the Turkmen authorities banned citizens under the age of 40 to leave the country, although it was not officially announced, the Turkmen service of Radio Liberty reported. In this way, the authorities are trying to keep the most efficient population inside the country. Meanwhile, migrant workers could help Turkmenistan cope with the economic crisis.