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Parviz Mullojanov: Labor Migration Will Harm Tajikistan in the Long Term

“Mass labor migration should not become a permanent phenomenon. The longer it lasts, the more harmful and destructive consequences it accumulates, and those are beginning to threaten political and social stability”, political analyst Parviz Mullojanov told CABAR.asia in an interview.

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CABAR.asia: during a meeting with Vladimir Putin, President of the Republic of Tajikistan Emomali Rahmon raised the issue of a mass amnesty for migrants from Tajikistan who violated certain norms of the Russian legislation. Will Moscow satisfy this request? Most likely, only a part of the labor migrants will be amnestied as usual, but the Russian side is unlikely to go towards a full amnesty. The expert community explains this as follows: labor migration has long been not an economic phenomenon, but geopolitical.

For Russia, Tajik labor migrants are an extremely convenient lever of influence on Dushanbe. The budget of Tajikistan directly depends on labor migration; therefore, the Tajik economy is often referred to as the “remittance economy”.

During his visit to Moscow, Rahmon raised the issue of amnesty for illegal labor migrants. Photo: kremlin.ru
Therefore, the Russian authorities use labor migrants as a tool of geopolitical influence from time to time. Every time, when disagreements arise in the Russian-Tajik negotiations or when the Russian side wants to express its dissatisfaction with any initiatives of the Tajik authorities, a wave of deportations begins.

Same situation occurred in 2011 during the so-called “case of Russian pilots”, and then during the negotiations on the Russian military base, and so on. Strategically, the Russian authorities intend to legalize completely the sphere of labor migration to Russia.

However, in fact, migrants are often used as a tool of influence on countries that supply the labor resources to the Russian market: Georgia, Azerbaijan, Moldova, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan as well.

On the other hand, the Russian authorities also use deportation as a tool for regulating labor migration in Russia. They also consistently hold a course to reduce illegal migration. This means that there is a certain plan in terms of the volume and number of deportations, which hands down and is further implemented locally.

Correspondingly, the relevant official departments often make random decisions on deportation, violating the protocol. A Russian human rights activist counted the number of deportations made by a judge of one of the Moscow courts. According to his calculations, the judge spent less than two minutes in average on each deportation case.

According to various sources, over the past 10 years, Tajik migrants transferred home about $22 billion. Do you think that in such conditions there are opportunities in the near future to reduce labor migration and increase the number of jobs inside the country?

As the experience of the other countries that have passed this stage shows, there are three main directions for ensuring inclusive employment. The first is industrialization, the development of small business and service sector. These areas can employ the greatest number of workers. No special investment is required there. Just the right conditions are necessary so that the average citizen could earn enough money to feed himself and his family and fill the state budget.
It is not necessary to create or invent anything. All these reforms have long been tested in a number of countries – South Korea, Singapore, and others. Reforms should include the separation of authorities’ powers and the creation of an independent arbitration court, a judicial system, and the protection of investors and business. A fundamental reform and revision of the tax system is also needed. This is the second direction.

The purpose of tax reform is that the growth of budget revenues should not be provided by the taxes growth, but by the expansion of the tax base. That is, the wealthier taxpayers are, the more actively people engage in the economy and business, the more considerable are budget revenues. The main tax burden should transfer from common taxpayers or small businesses to large companies and monopolies.

Third direction is the ruthless fight against corruption, regardless of the titles and persons. Corruption, regionalism and nepotism are incompatible with the modern economy development, especially the small and medium business sector.

The term “sound investment climate” traditionally means creating conditions for foreign capital. In fact, a sound investment climate should be created primarily for domestic investors, for the citizens. If it is not profitable for me, as an average citizen, to invest my savings in the local economy, the more it will not be beneficial for a foreign investor.
Parviz Mullojanov. Photo: ipp.kg
Given the large number of migrants (about 1.2 million citizens) in Russia, what measures should the authorities take to protect their interests in the host country? How do you rate the current work of government agencies in this direction?

If we compare current situation with the beginning and mid-2000s, the Tajik government today pays much more attention to protecting our migrants in Russia, our embassy and consulates, representative offices of migration services are more active. However, according to the migrants themselves and their organizations in Russia, the situation is still very far from perfect.

Especially, there are many complaints about the bureaucracy in the assistance provision, indifference towards deported migrants, who may be kept in prisons for many months. In addition, there are many complaints about the ineffectiveness of social and legal protection of migrants, the lack of assistance in case of unlawful detentions, violation of rights, extortion, non-payment of salaries, and so on.

On the other hand, some experts say that it is profitable for the current authorities to send a potential protest and active group – the youth – to migration and to solve social and economic problems through their remittances…

This situation seems to be beneficial only at a first glance. Perhaps, some part of the elite argues for this, but, in the first place, this should be disadvantageous for the political elite. “The remittance economy” is unviable in the long term. It is important to understand that mass labor migration should not become a permanent phenomenon.

The longer it lasts, the more harmful and destructive consequences it accumulates, and those are beginning to threaten political and social stability. As international experience shows, labor migration brings the most positive effect in the first five to ten years, usually in a transitional or post-conflict period, during economic and social upheavals, and so on.

At this time, it acts as an aid to the economy, performing two main functions: first, it allows a significant part of the population to survive and provide for their families. Secondly, thanks to labor migration, the population gets the opportunity to accumulate initial capital for its subsequent investment in the country’s economy and the development of their own business.

Further, everything depends on the authorities. Ideally, over these few years, the government should be able to create favorable conditions in the country for the labor migrants’ investments, so that people invest their savings and income in own business enterprises, farms, local banks, etc. In other words, mass labor migration is only a temporary tool for the funds and internal reserves accumulation for the subsequent economic breakthrough, the transition to an efficient, modern market economy, and providing the jobs inside the country. 
The example of the effective use of the labor migration is Turkey. In the 1970s, Turkey, along with the Maghreb countries, was the main labor resources supplier to Europe. In the 1980s, the Turkish government carried out a series of large-scale reforms, creating a sound investment climate within the country.

As a result, millions of Turkish migrants began to invest their savings in the small business and the services sector, which ensured a sharp increase in employment within the country; after that, foreign capital came into the country.

In turn, the governments of the Maghreb countries (Algeria, Tunisia and Egypt) failed or did not want to carry out reforms in time and attract the labor migrants’ savings to the economy, which ultimately led the region to the Arab Spring.

How does labor migration affect the traditions and culture of the population?

We should consider the experience of the Maghreb countries and Turkey, which have already passed this stage. In general, the legalization of migration leads to a decrease in the remittances volume. For example, Tunisia for a long time had as many (in terms of percentage) labor migrants abroad as we have now. In the 1970s and 1980s, most of them were legalized, received European passports, and moved there with their families – the volume of transfers sharply decreased. Indeed, migrants send less money to their homeland if their families are near them. Today, similar processes are happening to Tajik and post-Soviet labor migrants in Russia. I heard from Russian specialists that more than 20% of our migrants already have a Russian passport, and this number is rapidly growing.

The trend of moving to Russia with families and big circles of relatives is growing. Of course, their ties with the homeland will not be cut off completely, but all this will affect the remittances volume. As for the negative consequences, as I mentioned above, the longer mass labor migration lasts, the more problems it accumulates.

Long-term and large-scale labor migration erodes society: the common concept of “family” is destroyed, traditional values and the moral code are changing, and the number of incomplete, abandoned, separated families, children without fathers and orphans is growing. In addition, there exists the phenomenon of religious and political radicalization of migrant workers. According to official data, up to 80% of Tajik militants in the IS (terrorist organization banned in Tajikistan and several other countries – Ed.) were recruited from among labor migrants.

The experience of labor migration in the EU countries shows that the second and third generation of labor migrants are much more prone to religious radicalization than were their parents. Therefore, the protracted mass labor migration runs counter to the long-term interests of both the country, society, and the political elite. The only way out is to carry out full-scale reforms within the country, create jobs and return the majority of our migrants to their homeland. The sooner we do this, the better. “The remittance economy” is unviable in the long term.

Labor migrants detained in Russia. Illustrative photography from the Internet
What problems worry migrants above all?

First, the majority of migrants are worried about social and economic problems: today, labor migrants spend more and earn less. The cost of a patent, rental housing and food is growing; the devaluation of the ruble and the economic crisis recently have significantly reduced their incomes. Secondly, it is the official status issue: a visa-free regime exists, but bureaucratic difficulties are constantly arising, which again leads to increased expenses for a patent, registration of documents, etc.

Thirdly, it is the legal problems, since migrants are the main object of pressure, lawlessness and extortion by the police, law enforcement and judicial authorities.

Regarding the deportation of migrants at the Government of Tajikistan’s expense

Of course, the Tajik government, if desired, is able to create a system of free or favorable return of deported citizens back to the country. It is possible to ensure the transportation of the deported migrants by providing a train or a plane for them at least once a week. I do not think that this would require such big money.

How can the problem of numerous illegal migrants or those on the “black list” be solved?

There are two ways. First, signing the interstate agreement, perhaps within the framework of the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU) or at the bilateral level. For example, under such an agreement, migrants could receive legal status in Russia, similar to what citizens of the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU) member countries have. Secondly, in the future, the visa system could introduce labor visas.

In this case, illegal migration will cease to exist as a social phenomenon. However, the Tajik side (as well as the Russian side) is unlikely to agree to such a radical step. In general, the legalization of labor migration is already happening.

On the one hand, as mentioned above, the Russian government itself intends to end illegal migration in the country in the long term completely. On the other hand, this already happens naturally, as an increasing number of our migrants receive a residence permit or Russian citizenship.

This article was prepared as part of the Giving Voice, Driving Change – from the Borderland to the Steppes Project implemented with the financial support of the Foreign Ministry of Norway. The opinions expressed in the article do not reflect the position of the editorial or donor.

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