As a country with a receptive environment with easy access, Uzbekistan has been the destination of thousands of Russians fleeing uncertainty at home amid Moscow's invasion of Ukraine.
And their arrival and need for housing has had an immediate effect on the price of real estate in the capital, Tashkent.
Rents in the expansive city of some 2.4 million have risen again after months of decline due to the coronavirus pandemic, with real estate brokers telling RFE/RL's Uzbek Service that rental prices have increased an average of 15 percent in recent weeks.
"At the beginning of last month, one-bedroom apartments in Tashkent's cheapest districts of Sirgali, Olmazor, and Yunusobod were 3.13 million soms ($270), but now they are around 3.47 million soms ($300)," said Lidia Nazarova of the Krisha real estate company in Tashkent. "In the Yakkasaroy and Mirobod districts, prices now range from 5.79 million soms ($500) to 11.58 million soms ($1,000)."
Home prices in Tashkent have also skyrocketed, with the average price for a square meter rising from some 7 million soms ($605) last month to about 8 million soms ($691) in mid-March.
The housing costs in Tashkent are enhanced by the sharp devaluation of the ruble, which has been strongly affected by Western sanctions applied due to Russia's war in Ukraine.
And along with the collapse of the ruble, the Uzbek currency has also depreciated by about 12 percent against the dollar just in the last week, hitting 11,800 soms to the dollar on March 17.
"The dollar is rising [and] this, of course, is reflected in [increased] housing prices," said Nazarova.
Another factor adding pressure to the housing market is the return of many Uzbek migrants from Russia who have lost their jobs due to the sanctions.
If the situation [in Ukraine] does not improve, more people will come to us from Russia and housing prices will rise again.”-- Tashkent real estate broker
Nazarova said many of the Russians coming to Uzbekistan want to invest their money in real estate, which is seen as more stable than the fluctuating currencies.
Some 200,000 people are estimated to have left Russia since the invasion of Ukraine on February 24, as the sanctions have caused many companies to close their doors and lay off employees.
At least several thousand Russians are estimated to have come to Uzbekistan, where some 2 percent of the population is ethnic Russian. The Uzbek Migration Agency has not yet released any official numbers.
Along with Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan are popular destinations in Central Asia for fleeing Russians, as are the cities of Tbilisi, Yerevan, Helsinki, Dubai, Istanbul, and Antalya. They are all places that Russians are still allowed to fly to -- many countries are preventing Russian planes from landing or flying over their territory -- and places where a Russian passport is accepted without a visa.
An employee of one of Tashkent's largest housing developers told RFE/RL's Uzbek Service that the number of Russians interested in Uzbek real estate has risen significantly since the war began.
"The number of customers from Russia has increased [recently]," said a real estate broker who asked for anonymity. "Most of them are [ethnic] Russians who left us [after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 and are now returning]. There are also Uzbek [citizens] who are returning [to their homeland] with large sums of money. Some are just transferring their money to Tashkent since the currency is losing value every day. They want to protect their money by buying real estate. If the situation [in Ukraine] does not improve, more people will come to us from Russia and housing prices will rise again.”
Uzbekistan is trying to take advantage of the wave of migrants by introducing IT visas for foreign investors, IT professionals, and their families.
One-year renewable IT visas will be issued starting on April 1 to those specialists.
The foreign specialists will also have free schooling for children and access to health care during the visa period.
Problems For Students
The rising rents in Tashkent are complicating the housing situation for university students.
"There is no space in the dormitories [and] the rent for a one-room apartment in Tashkent is more than 3.46 million soms ($300). In the center, it is 5.79 million soms ($500). We are four or five students living together and thus far the landlord has not raised the price."
The existing dormitories in Uzbekistan can provide housing for only 30 percent of the more than 600,000 students in the country.