Central Asian Migrants Leave Russia

Millions from all over the region have historically travelled there to work, with their remittances playing a significant part in many countries’ economies.

Central Asian Migrants Leave Russia

Millions from all over the region have historically travelled there to work, with their remittances playing a significant part in many countries’ economies.

Central Asian labour migrants in Russia face an uncertain future as the economic fallout of sanctions levied over the invasion of Ukraine begin to take effect.

Millions of people from all over the region have historically travelled to Russia for work, with their remittances playing a significant part in many countries’ economies. The Covid-19 pandemic had already taken its toll on such work; now the falling rouble and restriction on money transfers from Russia are also having a major impact.

Aibek Musakov, from Kyrgyzstan, has worked as a delivery driver in Moscow for the last five years. He said that his wages had plummeted in just a few days.

“I used to earn up to 5,000 roubles a day before, and now my income is one third of that,” he said. “We have fewer orders, people are panicking. Many restaurants are closing… and we were told that there would be a reduction of staff. I wanted to look for another job, but there are no vacancies. My wife also works in Moscow as a waitress, and her salary was cut by 50 per cent. We don’t know how we would repay our loans now.”

Nurlan Zhumanbaev from Kazakstan has been working as a Yandex.Taxi taxi driver in Moscow but must now look for another job.

“On March 4, they told us that the company couldn’t repay their debts because of the new restrictions,” said, adding, “The supplies of necessary equipment, applications and required technologies were suspended, too. It means that Yandex would soon be closed. Now I am looking for a job.”

According to Andrei Glazyev, a professor at Russia’s Higher School of Economics (HSE), the coronavirus pandemic had already reduced the number of migrant workers in the country by 40 per cent. Many had lost their jobs while others had left and not returned. The current sanctions could further reduce the number of migrants by 50-60 per cent, he continued.

“In other words, if now Russia has nearly ten million migrants, say, there will be only four to five million in a few months,” Glazyev said.

According to the HSE, Russia was already facing a labour shortage before the latest crisis. In 2018, the potential workforce in Russia numbered 76.2 million and in 2020 it was 75.4 million. However, by the first two months of 2022, it had fallen to 50.8 million. The HSE estimates that if migrant workers begin to leave, the shortage of workers could be 80 per cent.

Shukhrat Mamatov, originally from Uzbekistan, works in Moscow as a shop assistant in the evening and sells brooms during the day.  His mother and brothers lost their jobs because of the crisis, and foodstuff prices went up by 30-40 per cent due to the drop in the rouble exchange rate.

“We want to leave home or for the US. They say people earn good money there. We have tried to find a job in Korea. But we were deceived and they stole our money. We rent one room with our family. In February, we paid 20,000 roubles for the apartment, but now we will be paying 33,000 roubles. It’s a shame. What shall we do now?” Mamatov said.

Kyrgyzstani citizen Gulzat Kozukeeva is studying in Moscow and supports herself by working at a bakery shop. Her university tuition fees went up, while her income went down.

“My job used to help me, and now we have fewer clients,” she said. “The price of flour goes up every day and we cannot raise the price because our clients will complain and there are so many competitors in our business. If I find a second job, I will quit my classes. I don’t want to go home because I was dreaming of getting an education in Moscow.”

According to Nurzida Bensgier, director of the International Information Centre, many migrants are now willing to take on an extra job.

“The soaring dollar has reduced the opportunities of foreigners to help their relatives staying back home,” she said. “Expenses will increase, and salaries will not. Therefore, to maintain living standards, many people are searching for a second or third job.  If previously an average workday lasted 12 hours, now people are willing to work 14 or 16 hours a day to keep their remittances to their relatives at the same level as before.”

Sending money home is much harder now. On March 10, the American money transfer system Western Union announced the suspension of its operations in Russia. Migrant workers sending money back home are considered core customers of this service. Visa and MasterCard payment systems also stopped working with Russian banks.

Umar Khuseinov, originally from Tajikistan, has worked as a courier in Russia for the past two years. According to him, it now takes much more effort to transfer money to his family.

“Western Union was comfortable because one could make a remittance and receive it at any bank in any country,” he explained. “Now I have to find a bank, ask bank details from the recipient, and wait. If there is no branch office available in the country, I have to find those banks that have signed memorandums with that bank. Everything is so mixed up that even bank officers do not understand what to do. I personally lose money whenever I remit it because the cash transfer fee is very high.”

The Russian government is planning a new package of measures to attract migrant workers, including opening land borders to the citizens of Eurasia Economic Union states and to not expel those who have committed minor administrative offences for the first time.

But Vadim Kozhenov, president of the Migrants Federation of Russia, said that soon it might simply not be worth their while for migrants to remain in Russia.

“The devaluation and fall of the rouble have already contributed to the reduction in revenues,” he continued. “It would be unprofitable for migrants to work for peanuts given that it’s expensive to rent an apartment and live in Russia.

This publication was prepared under the "Amplify, Verify, Engage (AVE) Project" implemented with the financial support of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Norway.

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