The number of emigrants from Kazakhstan is growing every year. During the past ten years, over 366 thousand people left the country. Most of them are capable to work, educated, with qualifications and capital.
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During the history of the independent Kazakhstan, several large migration waves can be observed. Each of them is connected to some kind of economic recession, just like those of 1990s and 2000s years, when more than 2.2 million people left the country (data from the “We, Kazakhstan” Report by the Bureau of National Statistics of the Republic of Kazakhstan), or 2008-2009 global crisis, which affected the macroeconomic situation of the country.
The migration outflow increased again in 2014 – a year remembered by the devaluation of the national currency and the reorganisation of the government. The data of the Bureau of National Statistics of Kazakhstan demonstrate an increase in the number of emigrants by 8-16% annually since 2014. In 2015, 30 thousand citizens left the country, but by the end of 2019, the figure increased by 30% and amounted to 45.2 thousand people. This is the highest indicator in the last ten years.
The statistics of external permanent emigration from Kazakhstan in 2020 shows a significant decrease in the number of emigrants. According to the Eurasian Economic Commission (EEC), in January-September 2020, only 21 thousand people left, or 61% of the number from the same period last year.
Some believe that the coronavirus pandemic could cause delayed migration process. People wishing to leave could not do it because of the closed borders. However, it will be possible to confirm or refute this opinion only after the borders are opened.
The migration processes are typical for other countries of the Eurasian Economic Union. However, according to the information from the EEC analysts published in the EAEU Statistical Yearbook, Kazakhstan has the largest negative net migration rate. This means that much more people leave the country than arrive.
Who Is Leaving?
An average family emigrating from Kazakhstan can be described with the data from the 2019 Statistical Bulletin “Migration of the population of the Republic of Kazakhstan” by the Bureau of National Statistics. It contains information on emigrants categorized by ethnicity, age, nationality.
Thus, out of 45.2 thousand people who left Kazakhstan in 2019, 72% are Russians, 7% are Germans, 6% are Ukrainians, and 4.8% are Kazakhs. The overwhelming majority of emigrants are urban residents (84%) from 16 to 62 years old (70%).
Ranking by the level of education shows that mainly people with higher or secondary professional education migrate from Kazakhstan (70% of people over 15 years old). The specialists of the Bureau of National Statistics also consider the emigrant’s profession. The most Kazakhstan citizens with higher education who left the country in 2019 were specialists in technical professions (more than 7.1 thousand), as well as citizens with an economic (3.7 thousand) and pedagogical (2.3 thousand) education. There were many lawyers, healthcare workers, architects, builders.
Where Do They Leave From?
There are some patterns in the regional structure of migration. The ethnic migration of the Russian-speaking population determined their settlement in the north eastern regions of the country. Therefore, the largest number of the leaving ethnic Russians is registered in the East Kazakhstan, Karaganda, Pavlodar, Kostanay regions.
Kazakhs leave to permanently reside in other countries from the most urbanized and developed territories: Almaty region, Nur-Sultan, East Kazakhstan, Mangystau and Kostanay regions.
Where Do They Go?
In the ranking of emigration destinations, compiled from the official statistics, Russia is leading – 88% of Kazakh emigrants move there. Analysis of the data shows that the Russian Federation is becoming a new homeland for Russian-speaking population from the northern and eastern regions of the country.
Germany ranks second among destinations; Germans and Russians migrate there. 1% share belongs to Uzbekistan, where Kazakhstan residents from the southern regions leave searching for a better life (Turkistan, Jambyl regions, Almaty, Shymkent).
Why Do They Leave?
Official statistics do not provide a clear answer to this question. Among the reasons for migration, the studies of the Bureau of National Statistics declare only three purposes: “to work” (10.5%), “to study” (0.8%) and “other” (88.7%). We asked the experts what this “other” is exactly.
Responding to CABAR.asia request, the specialists of the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) in Kazakhstan and Central Asia noted that the main factor influencing the decision to migrate is the economic situation.
“People migrate to find higher wages and better living conditions. This is a global trend and Kazakhstan is no exception. Why is Russia chosen as a country for labour migration most often? Due to the geographical proximity, the absence of a language barrier, a visa-free regime and a free labour market within the EAEU,” responded the IOM.
In 2019, the experts at the IOM Central Asia conducted a large study on external youth migration from the countries of the region. Political factors ranked first among the reasons for migration: corruption, uncertainty in the future due to vague state policy, weak civil society and others. The economic factors include a low level of country’s development, weak economy, stagnation, and low wages.
Among the methodological research tools, there was an online survey of young people who left for another country at least six months ago to receive education or employment.
Alexander Repin is from Ust-Kamenogorsk. He migrated to Russia with his family, and now works as a senior manager of the quality department in Kaliningrad.
“There are very few prospects for our children in Kazakhstan to find a good job and, later, make a decent living. We thought about migration consciously and purposefully. The difficulties I had to face are already forgotten, and I do not even want to visit Kazakhstan. Of course, Russia is also not perfect, there are many problems, but, comparing to Kazakhstan, the difference is huge,” he says.
The family of the primary school teacher Anastasia Semenova moved from Altai city in East Kazakhstan region to Yekaterinburg two years ago. According to her, several reasons pushed her to this decision.
First, it was the quality of education in Kazakhstan. The updated education system did not satisfy her either as a parent or as a teacher. Second, it was the low wage. In Yekaterinburg, she receives much more than in Kazakhstan in the same position. However, such salaries, according to Anastasia Semenova, are not common for whole Russia: it all depends on the city and specialty.
For the Vorobyov family, who moved from East Kazakhstan region to Novosibirsk, the unsatisfactory quality of education became one of the most important reasons for migrating.
“We thought about moving before, but when my daughter went to the first grade, we looked at the curriculum and… started collecting documents for the migration,” says the father, Artem Vorobyov. “The second reason is the lack of prospects for the future. These endless fines, corruption, bureaucracy destabilize. We did not like bad ecology. Here, many deceases and allergies disappeared. Did we get what we expected? Definitely, yes. We received relocation allowance, maternity capital; they offered training and employment. Our emigration was not easy: many papers, a lot of money and stress, but it was worth it.”
Olga Simakova, Project Coordinator at the Public Fund “Center for Social and Political Studies “Strategy”, researches the features of migration processes in Kazakhstan for many years. An in-depth analysis of the problem reveals new patterns.
“At the beginning, everyone claimed that emigration from Kazakhstan had an ethnic character, that it was mainly Russian-speaking people who were leaving, and accordingly, such factors as lack of knowledge of the state language or discomfort in everyday life, discrimination based on cultural and linguistic grounds were named as reasons for leaving. However, after the Kazakhs began migrating, we asked ourselves the question, is it always the language issues to blame for the fact that a person emigrates? There is already a different situation: the reason is socio-economic factors and self-realization issues,” notes Simakova.
The statistics confirm that the share of ethnic Kazakhs in the total number of emigrants is small, but tends to grow. Representatives of the titular ethnic group leave for Russia (63% of the total number of Kazakh emigrants in 2019), Uzbekistan (8%), Germany (6%), the USA (5%) and other countries.
“When a person with a qualification, higher education is searching for a high-paying job, and does not find it in the structure of the economy in our country, he/she is looking for opportunities to realize a potential somewhere else. We live in an open space and can compare. […] For many professionals in Kazakhstan, there is a “glass ceiling” factor that they face despite their high qualifications,” notes Olga Simakova.
“In a Strange Land, on the Alien Planet”
Another significant trend in the youth emigration is educational migration. The problem of the annual outflow of thousands of Kazakh applicants to foreign universities is discussed at the government level in Kazakhstan. For several years, the authorities take various measures to improve the quality of education in national universities, increase the number of grants, etc.
According to the EEC statistical digest “Education in Figures”, in 2019-2020, 63 thousand Kazakhstan citizens studied at Russian universities. Considering the fact that there are only 605 thousand students in Kazakh universities, it turns out that every tenth Kazakh student receives higher education abroad. Within the EAEU, Kazakhstan has 67% share in the total volume of the students’ ‘exports’.
A sample calculation made by analysts of the International Organisation for Migration in Kazakhstan and Central Asia, suggests, “The potential of emigration of young people who left the countries of the region to work or study can be estimated at 30-35% with a tendency to growth”. That is, about 20 thousand Kazakh students studying abroad may renounce their citizenship of the Republic of Kazakhstan in the future.
“Educational migration is considered by a significant number of young citizens of Central Asian countries as a springboard for subsequent emigration from the country. It is assumed that educational programmes are aimed at improving the skills of young people so that they invest in the development of the national economy. However, having received an education and experience living in other countries, educational migrants who return to their homeland are again oriented toward migration, but already with the goal of working abroad or staying there for permanent residence,” claims the study by experts at the IOM Coordination Office in Central Asia.
According to Olga Simakova, ethnic differences should also be considered in educational migration trends. The Russian-speaking families from Kazakhstan, who send their children to study in foreign universities, are striving to ‘push them out’ of the country, so that a son or daughter received an education, applied for citizenship, and found a job there. The Kazakh students’ parents believe that there is better education abroad, but encourage young people to return and be near their families, to build a career here.
Prospects and More
In 2019, the specialists from the United Nations Population Fund in Kazakhstan (UNFPA) with the support of the Bureau of National Statistics of the Republic of Kazakhstan prepared an analytical report on the population situation in Kazakhstan. In a separate section, it provides prospects for external migration of Kazakhstan up to 2050.
“The main assumption in generating international migration scenarios was that the outflow of people from Kazakhstan will gradually decrease over time. The key factors behind this trend will be the country’s continued economic development, accompanied by a high demand for labour; the gradual cessation of significant ethnic out-migration; and the rapid growth of the population in the neighbouring countries (which are the homelands of immigrants to Kazakhstan – Ed.),” UNFPA experts concluded.
Project Coordinator at the Public Fund “Center for Social and Political Studies “Strategy” Olga Simakova agrees with the forecasts of a decrease in the migration flow among the Russian-speaking population of Kazakhstan in the future. According to the expert, the reasons are related to demography.
“Ethnic Russians have a lower birth rate: on average, there are one or two children in a family. Considering the desire to move to Russia, which exists among the parents of senior schoolchildren, we can predict that over time, there will be fewer ethnic Russian youth in Kazakhstan. In the medium term, the representatives of the older generation will start leaving the country – the parents of those students,” Olga Simakova said in CABAR.asia interview.
In this spring, the Public Fund “Center for Social and Political Studies “Strategy” conducted a survey among Kazakhstanis on their migration intentions. The respondents were asked the question, “If you had an opportunity to change your place of residence, where would you migrate?” The answers were different depending on the respondents’ ethnicity. More than half of the respondents do not want to move anywhere. 28.3% of ethnic Russians respondents and 10.7% of ethnic Kazakhs declared the desire to leave Kazakhstan.
Olga Simakova notes that, according to the demography theory, there can be any length of time between an intention and a decision. Many factors influence the outcome.
“Those people, who have intentions to migrate, have a vague idea of the future, of their prospects. When they are not there, there is nervousness, uncertainty, this puts pressure, forces to consider option of migration. Migration is normal, you do not need to perceive it as something terrible. The change of place of residence is a basic right to freedom of movement of a person,” Simakova said.
She notes that the impact of emigration on a donor country does not always need to be considered in a quantitative aspect. For Kazakhstan with a population of 18 million people, the loss of 32 thousand people per year (net migration in 2019 – Ed.) does not significantly affect the natural population growth. The qualitative composition of emigrants is another issue. The departure of capable to work young professionals with children is a loss for the state. In order to keep them, the systemic changes in the economy, social sphere, education are needed.
Main photo: vlast.kz