Anvar Babaev: The Migration Situation in Tajikistan: Problems and Solutions
“The return of labor migrants has reached critical mass in the course of the economic crisis facing their country of destination. This influx of returning labor migrants is also capable of exerting influence on the demographic structure of the population, labor market and socio-political stability. It is could also lead to a further deterioration in certain deteriorating criminogenic factors in the country, which is also incredibly undesirable for society”, – economist Anvar Babaev analyzes a series of problems facing labor migrants after they return to their homeland in this CABAR.asia exclusive.
The volatility of the migration situation and the flow of labor migrants returning to the Republic of Tajikistan in the past two-three years has led to new challenges, which stem from the large number of our citizens, labor migrants and their families, returning to their homeland, and these challenges must be overcome with minimal losses to society. In the years since Tajikistan gained independence from the Soviet Union, Tajik labor migrants have made an invaluable contribution towards the provision of social, economic, and political stability of their homeland by sending significantly large sums of money to Tajikistan to the tune of 30-50% of the national GDP.
Between 2005 and 2013, increasing external labor migration was an observable trend, but in recent years there has been a noticeable decline in the levels of Tajik migration to certain countries due in part to sanctions imposed by the United States and the European Union on the Russian Federation. Recent changes in Russian immigration legislation have subsequently led to a sharp increase in the number of “blacklisted” migrants.
In 2013, there were 799,698 labor migrants arriving in Russia, but this number fell by 20% to 670,806 people in 2014. In 2015, this declining trend in the number of labor migrants continued with only 552,596 people migrating to Russia. This is 18% or 118,210 less people in comparison to 2014. Reports from the first 8 months of 2016 indicate that 387,500 labor migrants left Tajikistan for Russia in that time period, and this indicator is 9.6% lower than the figures from this same period of time a year earlier. This further proves that there is a continuing decline in the levels of migration to Russia.
This decrease in the number of Tajik citizens in the Russian Federation as labor migrants is also confirmed by the corresponding Russian services. According to data from the Russian Federal Migration Service, the number of labor migrants from Tajikistan in Russia reached 1,111,000 individuals in December 2013; in December 2014 there were 1,050,000; and in December 2015 there were 896,000.
Some of this statistical mismatch in Tajik and Russian data on the number of labor migrants is due to the fact that Tajikistan’s Migration Service undertakes an annual audit of the number of citizens going abroad based on completed migration cards, while Russia’s Federal Migration Service maintains a record of all foreign nationals on Russian territory, including those who have arrived in the past few years and those who have not left the country at the moment of the drafting of the report.
Thus, it can be stated that the flow of labor migrants returning to Tajikistan in the past three years has been a natural process. This process must be granted careful attention by the relevant state agencies and structures, because it impacts tens of thousands of labor migrants and their families in need of social assistance from the state.
The economic sanctions levied against the Russian Federation by the United States and European Union and the subsequent difficult socio-economic problems in Russia such as the sharp decline in the value of the ruble are the primary causes for the return of a large number of Tajik labor migrants. Structural changes as well as significant additions and amendments made to immigration legislation in the Russian Federation are also a factor leading to the massive repatriation of labor migrants over the past three years. Pursuant to newly introduced requirements, a foreign national must present 8 specific documents to the local migration office within 30 days of their entry into Russian territory in order to receive a permit to find legal employment, which is practically impossible. Therefore, many foreign arrivals unwittingly find themselves in defiance of Russian immigration law and face future deportation.
By the beginning of 2014 there were 71,000 Tajik labor migrants blacklisted by the Russian Federal Migration Services due to violations of Russian law. By the beginning of 2015 this number grew to 202,000 people, and this year the number of people blacklisted has grown even larger. By the middle of 2016, this number had climbed to 329,000 people.
After their repatriation, these citizens are denied the right to enter Russian territory for three to five years, and in some cases this ban can be for up to 10 years. A situation has thus arisen in which there are tens of thousands of returned labor migrants in Tajikistan that are in need of adaptation and reintegration in their own homeland.
Problems after the return of labor migrants and state policy
After their return to the Republic of Tajikistan, labor migrants and their families face multiple problems, which demand prompt solutions from authorized government bodies.
The long-term absence of returning migrants significantly impacts their social environment. They lose contact with some relatives, friends, former colleagues, and acquaintances that they once had shared interests and contacts. As such, in Tajikistan and several other countries, labor migrants are unable to find employment by reaching out to friends and relatives as well as former employers in Tajikistan, and it is therefore impossible for them to find a decent job in a timely manner. In Tajikistan, there is no market for vacancies with private employers for all intents and purposes. Returning migrants and other laborers in Tajikistan should have the ability to find out about vacancies and evaluate the nature of a given job offered anywhere in the country.
Bans from entering the Russian Federation, administrative punishments, and humiliation that labor migrants are confronted with while abroad negatively impact their mental health. Labor migrants lose hope in ever finding decent employment in Tajikistan in the future. Without gainful employment and the ability to make a living, returning migrants become additional burdens for other working family members. These relatives are now forced to work more to feed both their family and the returned migrant.
Practice has shown that there are several factors that lead labor migrants to return home.
Figure 1. Main reasons for the return of migrant workers in Tajikistan
Current legislation in the Republic of Tajikistan in the area of labor and migration sets forth norms that are in need of adjustment and correction considering the massive changes in these fields in the country. Many returning migrants are unable to receive unemployment assistance, because they are not registered with the Labor and Employment Agency and the Tajik National Social Insurance and Pension Agency. According to Tajik law, unemployment assistance is available to citizens that are officially registered as unemployed, have worked for no less than 18 months in the past three years, and have paid the mandatory social security payments in that time. This means that if migrants have been outside of Tajikistan for at least three years, then they are denied the right to receive unemployment assistance. Moreover, many migrants are young people who only have a secondary education, have no work experience in Tajikistan. Having never worked in Tajikistan, these migrants have never paid into social security.
The certification of a migrant’s skills gained through an informal education while working abroad is yet another problem in Tajikistan in need of a solution. Training is only recognized if it is received through the formal education system, but any skills gained informally remain completely unrecognized. The Republic of Tajikistan’s Ministry of Labor, Migration, and Employment is piloting a skill formalization program. Based on the lessons learned through this pilot program, the Migration Service has created centers to provide consultation and training to labor migrants before they go abroad. Centers for adult education could also be created to periodically organize the certification of returning labor migrants’ skills.
One factor that remains a barrier for returning migrants efforts to start and expand their own enterprises is the lack of sufficient start-up capital and the difficulty in receiving preferential loans. During period of crisis, lending institutions pay particular attention to the quality of their own credit portfolio and tend to avoid lending to risky borrowers, which include the vast majority of returning migrants. There are practically no guarantee funds in Tajikistan that could finance short-term risks for financial institutions. This issue has led to discussions first and foremost among financiers, but why should this issue not be studied to benefit our own citizens by considering positive international practices?
The number of labor migrants returning to Tajikistan with health issues is also on the rise. They require particular medical assistance upon their return. Due to disease or declining health, returning migrants could become additional burdens on their families and fall into a marginalized segment of the population. In the end, the diseased condition of a certain portion of the labor migrant population threatens the gene pool and future of the state.
An additional social cost of labor migration presents itself in the form of family disintegration. Some men emigrate and leave behind their wives, who do not receive any news from their husbands for many years let alone any remittances. Without fathers, these children grow up without proper parenting, which leads to problems such as neglect, deterioration in the quality of education and health, and a susceptibility to the influence of criminal elements. After returning home, in most cases families such as these fall apart. This leads to a multitude of problems that place increased stress on all members of the family.
As such, the return of labor migrants has reached critical mass in the course of the economic crisis facing their country of destination. This influx of returning labor migrants is also capable of exerting influence on the demographic structure of the population, labor market and socio-political stability. It is could also lead to a further deterioration in certain deteriorating criminogenic factors in the country, which is also incredibly undesirable for society.
On 5 February 2015, the Government of the Republic of Tajikistan adopted Resolution № 50 “On a plan of action to prevent exposure of the national economy to potential risks”. This resolution aims to prevent the possible negative consequences of the financial crisis for the socio-economic situation nationally as well as the risk of a mass return of labor migrants from the Russian Federation. This anti-crisis action plan considers the possibility of taking steps aimed at improving employment opportunities for labor migrants returning from abroad, the provision of social welfare support, training for necessary professions, certification of professional skills, and perfecting legislation aimed at regulating the labor migration of Tajik citizens, etc.
This government resolution is only a medium-term plan. The action plan’s measures are all projected to be completed by 2018. Simultaneously, all government agencies in the Republic of Tajikistan have been ordered to ensure proper implementation of the action plan in a timely manner and to present regular quarterly reports to the Government on the status of the action plan’s implementation.
The benefit of returning migrant workers
Returning labor migrants could contribute to progressive social changes and local economic development, because the majority of labor migrants return with new expertise and technologies. The Tajik Government must use this human resource and mobilize their financial and social capital.
Tajikistan’s migrants were able to improve their skills while working in Russia. This includes not only highly skilled migrants but also those that worked in low-skilled jobs. A 2013 World Bank study showed that Tajik migrants have more advanced cognitive and noncognitive skills than those that have never left the country thanks in large part to their work experience abroad. According to the International Organization for Migration’s study on the problems of returning labor migrants that were banned from returning to the Russian Federation, labor migrants acquire new skills while working abroad. As such even if they leave only for short-term seasonal work, a migrant receives economic benefits in the form of new professional skills.
Additional income gained through migration, remittances sent home by migrants and the funds that migrants bring home after returning, is a key attribute of labor migration. A portion of this income is naturally spent on basic consumption, but the family also uses these funds to invest in a new home, education, healthcare, as well as start-up capital to open their own businesses. This income acts as an economic multiplier that stimulates local economic development.
In light of Tajikistan’s current socio-economic situation, the country’s development cannot be imagined without the contribution of labor migration. For this reason, the potential of returning labor migrants must be effectively utilized. Practically speaking, many of them have relatives and close friends abroad that can or are able to provide financial support in the event of a migrant starting a small or medium enterprise in their homeland. For this reason alone, actual state support and guarantees are required for citizens to be confident enough to invest their money for their own sake and the sake of society at large.
Working abroad, particularly in large cities, migrants develop their own social and cultural capital. Migrants gain new connections as well as knowledge of the Russian language, norms of behavior, mutual commitments, trust, and solidarity. After returning to Tajikistan, they become the primary drivers of behavior and new knowledge, which also facilitates the economic development of their communities. A migrant’s connections with Russian businesses can later become a successful business in Tajikistan, and this question requires winning the trust of a quorum of individuals capable of financing mutually beneficial projects.
Having analyzed the migration situation in the Republic of Tajikistan and the practically unchanging position of labor migrants abroad, we can safely say that the process of labor migrants returning home to Tajikistan will continue at the current pace for the foreseeable future. Therefore, to implement flexible and transparent policies to achieve desired outcomes in addressing the problems of returning labor migrants and their families as well as ensure government regulation of migratory processes in Tajikistan, the following conclusions have been reached:
- Considering the changed migration situation and policy of the states both near and far, it is necessary to improve and adopt more modern migration, employment, social welfare, healthcare, and pension legislation.
- Taking into account international best practices regarding the problems stemming from the return of labor migrants, it is important to study the modern aspects of this field with a focus on new methods and mechanisms for working with returning labor migrants and their families.
- Assuming the global nature of current migration processes, there is a need for academic research on the socio-demographic impact of return migration in the context of globalization. The study should include relevant stakeholders in the process.
- Considering the shoddy work of relevant state agencies such as the Tajik Ministry of Labor, Migration, and Employment in the past few years in the areas of migration and social and legal protections, we consider the issue of education at the level of an independent migration committee to be an imperative of the times.
- In order to resolve the domestic employment issues facing returning labor migrants as well as the introduction of a flexible policy for the reintegration of returning migrants, it is time to turn existing regional Consultation and Preparation Centers for departing labor migrants into Consultation and Labor Migrant Reintegration Centers through the adoption of appropriate reintegration programs at the national level.
 Reports from the Migration Service of the Republic of Tajikistan, 2013 – 2014.
 ASIA-PLUS, №73 (1158), 26 September 2016.
 ASIA-PLUS, № 02 (1087), 11 January 2016.
 2010 Annual Demographic Report, Presidential Statistical Agency of the Republic of Tajikistan.
 Reports from the Migration Service of the Republic of Tajikistan, 2011 – 2015.
 Reports from the Tajik Migration Service, 2013 – 2016.
 Tajik Government Resolution 5 February 2015 №50 “On a plan of action to prevent exposure of the national economy to potential risks”
 Ajwad, Mohamed Ihsan Stefan Hut, Ilhom Abdulloev, Robin Audy, Joost de Laat, Sachiko Kataoka, Jennica Larrison, Zlatko Nikoloski, and Federico Torracchi. (2014). “The Skills Road: Skills for Employability in Tajikistan.” World Bank, Washington DC.
Author: Anvar Babaev, PhD in Economics, Head Analyst and Director of the Population Migration Section of the Tajik Academy of Science’s Institute of Economics and Demographics (Dushanbe, Tajikistan)
The position of the author does not necessarily reflect the position of the CABAR.asia editorial board.