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Wednesday, 19 February 2014

Tajikistan Ratifies Agreement with Russia on Tajik Labor Migrants

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By Oleg Salimov (the 19/02/2014 of the CACI Analyst)

As reported by an official press release on February 12, 2014, Tajikistan's parliament ratified the recently signed "Protocol of amendments to the Tajikistan-Russia governmental agreement on labor activities of their citizens in the host countries." This protocol came in addition to an earlier agreement signed on October 16, 2004. The ratified amendments extend the validity of work permits issued by Russia to Tajik labor migrants from one to three years. Tajik labor migrants can now stay in Russia longer, without needing to leave and reenter the country every year as was provisioned by the initial agreement.

The protocol of amendments is part of a larger set of memorandums signed by Presidents Vladimir Putin and Emomali Rakhmon in October of 2012. The most critical part of these memorandums was the extended terms for the Russian military base in Tajikistan, which can now remain until 2042 free of charge. In exchange, among other conditions, the Russian side promised to revise the conditions for tariffs-free export of fuel to Tajikistan and introducing migratory preferences for Tajik labor migrants.

Besides the extended work permits, an extension of unregistered stay in Russia for Tajik citizens up to 15 days was introduced, an 8 day increase from the standard 7 days for other foreigners. Also proposed for amendments were the provision of Russian assistance for Tajik migratory centers preparing migrants for labor activity in Russia, exchange of information on labor market demands, and the creation in Tajikistan of a specialized Russian-funded educational institution to prepare professionals for Russia’s needs. 

When lobbying the ratification of the amendments in Parliament, the Tajik Minister of Labor, Migration, and Employment Sumangul Tagoeva emphasized that the amendments would bring relief for Tajik labor migrants who could continuously stay in Russia for up to three years. The interest in allowing Tajiks to stay longer in Russia, expressed by the Minister of Labor, can be considered as out of the ordinary unless the Minister’s priorities have shifted from creating jobs and controlling migration to outsourcing Tajikistan's workforce to Russia. A possible explanation for this official position can be found in at least two benefits that the Tajik government envisions from the extended employment of Tajiks in Russia.

First, the remittances sent by labor migrants to Tajikistan comprise a significant part of Tajikistan's economy and the country’s income. According to World Bank, the total amount of annual remittances to Tajikistan in 2012 exceeded US$ 3.3 billion. Tajikistan's GDP in 2012 was US$ 6.9 billion, meaning that labor migrants sent home an amount corresponding to nearly half the country's GDP. Although it can be assumed that not all remittances were sent from Russia, Tajikistan's government cannot afford losing this source of money influx to the country.

Second, keeping large masses of adult men, who constitute the major share of the labor migration, outside of Tajikistan alleviates the internal social pressures created by unemployment and a crumbling economy. According to Russian Immigration Services, men and women age 18 to 29 make up the largest groups of Tajik migrants, respectively amounting to 418,000 and 65,000. Altogether, Russia hosts almost 1 million Tajik migrants. By encouraging its able-bodied population to stay out of Tajikistan, the government can disable and control the protest movement in the country. At the same time, for Tajik labor migrants, the extended stay abroad can result in a detachment from realities back home, which serves a similar purpose. Therefore, labor migration is partly a way for Tajikistan's government to soften demands to implement economic and democratic reforms.

While Tajik labor migration provides relief for migrants’ families in the short run, it also accelerates Tajikistan's deprivation in the long run. First, Tajik labor migration contributes to consolidating an economy dependent on remittances, preventing the country from developing a production sector and adequately engaging in international trade. It also makes Tajikistan an easy target for Russian manipulation as the last agreement on the military base has shown. Second, as a developing country, Tajikistan should retain its workforce and develop human capital rather than export its human assets.

Finally, with a large portion of its workforce dislocated, Tajikistan's government can afford to concern itself less with problems pertaining to the stalled economy or the political system - a recipe for an increasingly stagnant, unproductive, and increasingly authoritarian government. Overall, the increased incentives for mass labor migration that are created under the recently ratified agreements risks becoming a complex problem covering multiple sides of life. Besides the economic and political consequences for Tajikistan, the presence of labor migrants in Russia generates social tension in the host country, which is reflected in the rapid rise of xenophobic sentiments in Russia.

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