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Tajikistan: State Seeks To Regulate Outflow Of Workers To Russia

Almost six years after the end of the Tajik civil war, the country is still struggling to rebuild its economy. According to United Nations estimates, more than four out of every five Tajiks live in poverty. This lack of economic opportunities has forced a growing number of Tajiks to seek employment elsewhere, particularly Russia. RFE/RL takes a look at recent labor-migration trends between Tajikistan and Russia.

Prague, 26 February 2003 (RFE/RL) -- Tajik Ministry of Labor and Social Security Services experts estimate this year that each second able-bodied resident of Tajikistan -- some 900,000 people -- will try to leave the country in search of better employment. Most will go to Russia. A Tajik foundation estimates that a similar number of Tajiks left the country last year in search of work. More than 80 percent of them went to Russia.

Tajiks are not required to obtain a visa to travel to the Russian Federation, and it is relatively easy for them to go there illegally, where they find work in the shadow economy. But those Tajiks are then at the mercy of both unscrupulous employers and the Russian police. In a much publicized action last year, Russian police rounded up several dozen Tajiks found to be working in Russia without proper papers and permits and forcibly expelled them to Tajikistan.

The Tajik government is now trying to find ways to regulate the flow of labor. One problem is that there are only six recognized firms that recruit such laborers legally on behalf of potential Russian employers. Six more firms have applied for licenses to do so. But the primary problem is the sheer number of Tajiks involved: Those firms cannot provide employment for all who seek it.

Moreover, according to Igor Bosk, who heads the International Migration Organization Office in Dushanbe, the overwhelming majority of Tajik migrant workers have no marketable skills. "Labor migration from Tajikistan is essentially an irregular trend.... Unfortunately, Tajik migrant workers don't have the skills which are required in the modern labor market in Russia, and therefore they are primarily undertaking irregular occupations... which also benefit the private sector," Bosk said.

Last December, the Tajik government adopted an External Labor Migration Program for 2002-2005. It provides for strengthening the social and legal protection of those temporarily working abroad, reducing the volume of uncontrollable migration, and improving the professional skills of labor migrants.

But even if successfully implemented, it will take time for that program to bear results. Meanwhile, Tajiks heading for Russia this year will face new obstacles in that Moscow has imposed a total limit of 539,000 on the number of "legal" workers to be allowed to enter Russia from all CIS states. That figure, which will include Kyrgyz, Azerbaijanis, and others, is far lower than the total number of Tajiks who hope to travel to Russia.

Nonetheless, Bosk believes that approximately 200,000, or more than one-third of the total contingent of workers to be allowed to enter Russia, is earmarked for workers from Tajikistan.

Both Russian and Tajik officials are aware of the problem such workers pose for both countries. The issue was discussed during a meeting in Moscow earlier this month between a visiting Tajik parliamentary delegation and Russian State Duma Speaker Gennadii Seleznev. Russian President Vladimir Putin and Tajik President Imomali Rakhmonov also discussed it during talks last month in Kyiv, according to Tajik presidential press secretary Zafar Saidov. "[President Rakhmonov] discussed [labor migration] with President Vladimir Putin because of the importance of migration to the state. They agreed that cooperation in this area should be strengthened. And people responsible for the unusual deportation of Tajik migrants are to be punished. These include law-enforcement officers. All of them are fired from their posts," Saidov said.

Even if no measures are taken to regulate the outflow of seasonal labor from Tajikistan to Russia, the number of Tajiks heading to Russia is unlikely to diminish. Russian companies benefit from the cheap labor, while the money Tajik laborers earn is essential to sustain their families.

The precise amount of money sent back from Russia to Tajikistan is difficult to calculate. Some Russian journalists have suggested that it exceeds the entire Tajik annual budget, which in 2003 predicts revenue of about $200 million. Bosk, however, said data from the Tajik National Bank suggests that remittances in 2002 by Tajik workers in Russia to Tajikistan amounted to around $80 million.