Central Asia’s dependence on remittances from labor migrants in Russia has long given the Kremlin a powerful lever to manipulate the region’s politics. Now, new regulations are making finding work in Russia more costly and difficult for many Central Asian guest workers.
It is the holiday season in Kyrgyzstan and thousands of laborers have come from Russia to celebrate with their families. But this year, some are unsure if they will return in spring, the traditional migration season.
Sardor Abdullayev, a construction worker from eastern Uzbekistan, had planned to go to Russia next spring to join relatives working construction sites in the Volga River city of Samara. But now, he says, “I am better off staying at home and driving a taxi.”
When Rasulov Bakhtier arrived in Abkhazia in 2012 as a migrant laborer, he had no idea he would be prohibited from returning to his native Uzbekistan via Russia. As a result, Bakhtier, a construction worker and father of two, now finds himself among hundreds of “guest captives” in the separatist enclave.
Judging by the long line outside the Russian Embassy in Tashkent one recent afternoon, new Russian legislation offering citizenship to Russian-speakers is prompting lots of individuals in Uzbekistan to ponder emigration. Some see a chance to escape economic woes; others, stymied by Uzbekistan’s own Byzantine bureaucracy, want to seize on an opportunity to obtain a proper passport.
There are three ways Central Asian guest workers travel to Russia, the magnet that draws millions of Kyrgyz, Tajiks and Uzbeks each year. The most expensive is by plane. Train is less pricey. Bus is cheaper still, but it’s also the slowest and most prone to scams from beginning to end.
Hear a man speaking Tajik on Moscow’s fashionable Krymskaya Embankment, and you could be forgiven for thinking he's migrant worker on break from one of the many construction sites in the area. But listen carefully and you realize that it’s a native Russian-speaker practicing a new language.