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Amnesty for Illegal Migrants Proves a Hit

By News Briefing Central Asia
Illegal labour migrants in Kazakstan are being given the chance to acquire legal rights to live and work in the country, and as the deadline approaches the amnesty looks like a success. NBCentralAsia commentators note that this one-off campaign should have been accompanied by measures to address the reasons why people end up as illegal migrants.

For example, they say, the procedure for entering Kazakstan and registering as a foreign worker there could be simplified, and regional countries could harmonise legislation covering population movement.

Less than two weeks remain until the “legalisation” campaign ends. Anyone who arrived in Kazakstan looking for work before the end of May 2006 is eligible to apply. The amnesty has exceeded all expectations, with more than 140,000 people registering in the last four months – half as many again as the authorities thought would come forward.

In all, there are an estimated 300,000 illegal migrants in Kazakstan, most of them from Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan. They are concentrated in the construction industry, the service sector and agriculture.

While there is agreement that the campaign has worked, NBCentralAsia analysts say extending legal status to migrants does not address basic flaws in the system.

One of the problems, according to Yevgeny Zhovtis, director of the Kazakstan International Bureau for Human Rights and Rule of Law, is that members of the Commonwealth of Independent States have not reached clear agreements about how to manage migration.

“I think the solution to this problem does not lie within the legislation of any one country,” said Zhovtis. “It’s a question of CIS-wide legislation.”

NBCentralAsia analyst Eduard Poletaev believes there would be no need for the current mass campaign of “legalisation” if the authorities made it easier for labour migrants to enter the country legally in the first place, issuing them with an ID card for a fee at the point of entry. But he admits that corruption and bureaucracy in the system would still create obstructions.

Poletaev notes that many local businessmen still see no advantage in registering the “illegals” they hire. As Kazakstan’s economy grows and attracts growing numbers of workers from neighbouring countries, he predicts problems in the labour market unless the system is changed to make registration beneficial for employers as well as employees.

One such businessman told NBCentralAsia that hiring illegal labour is profitable as it allows employers to avoid paying taxes and also to offer lower wages.

“I gladly employ illegal migrants,” he said. “Hiring these people allows me divert money away from the tax system, and I need it as I have to bribe government officials, fire and health inspectors, and the police. If I paid all my taxes, I’d be forced to close down.”

(News Briefing Central Asia draws comment and analysis from a broad range of political observers across the region.)