Search RFE/RL

Central Asia in Focus: Cost of Russian Work Permits Increase

The rising cost of Russian work permits for Central Asians, Kazakhstan’s water crisis, Tajikistan seeks EU preferential trade status, and more.

Central Asians working in Russia as street cleaners in a Moscow street. (RFE/RL).
Many Central Asians work in Russia as street cleaners, gardeners, caretakers, and janitors on Moscow streets. (RFE/RL).

In the Region

Cost of Russian Work Permits Could Quadruple

Russia is preparing to increase the cost of a work permit for migrant laborers from 1,200 rubles (about $12) to 4,800 rubles (about $48). The move would affect millions of Central Asian migrant laborers who work in Russia.

The party A Just Russia drafted legislation for the price increase. The budget and tax committee of the Russian State Duma, the lower house of parliament, started reviewing the proposal in early August.

While it might be natural to regard this proposal as a means of boosting state revenue, comments about the need for the increase indicate there are other motives.

An explanatory note from the Duma committee on the proposed increase says the measure is a response to recent “concern of citizens of the Russian Federation about the number of labor migrants working in Russia, as well as their problems adapting to Russian society.”

When speaking about the proposal to quadruple the cost of the work permit, A Just Russia party head Sergei Mironov said in July, “Already for several years, migrants, who are not highly qualified specialists, are earning not less than citizens of Russia.”

Mironov also said “[I]t is obvious that regular money transfers of foreign citizens to other countries contribute to the weakening of the economic potential of our country.”

It is unclear when the increase in the cost of the work permit might be imposed.

Why It’s Important: Russian officials acknowledged long ago that the labor force in Russia is insufficient, and the country needs to take in foreign workers.

Despite Mironov’s claim that Central Asian migrant laborers earn as much as Russian citizens, there is overwhelming evidence that most Central Asian workers perform manual labor and are poorly paid.

Employers, especially at construction sites, often disappear without paying migrant laborers who carried out work.

Central Asian migrant laborers do send the equivalent of billions of dollars home every year, but as mentioned, Russia needs workers.

The explanatory note and Mironov’s remarks sound more like racism than an attempt to find a new source for state revenue.

Kyrgyzstan Stops Water to Area in South Kazakhstan

Kazakhstan’s Ministry of Ecology and Natural Resources said on August 11 that water has stopped flowing into the Talas River that is key to agriculture in Kazakhstan’s southern Zhambyl Province.

The Talas River flows from Kyrgyzstan into Kazakhstan. Kazakh officials were already in talks with Kyrgyz authorities about releasing some water from Kyrgyzstan’s Kirov reservoir into the river.

The Kazakh ministry said 4,000 hectares of onions and beet roots could be lost unless more water is released.

Kyrgyzstan is also facing water shortages this year, especially in its northern Talas and Chuy provinces.

Kyrgyzstan’s Agriculture Ministry responded on August 13 that representatives of the two countries met in July. The Kyrgyz side explained Kyrgyzstan was itself short of water.

Kyrgyzstan’s Agriculture Ministry said “as of today, the water from the sources of the Talas Valley remains very low.” The Ministry also stated the water level now at the Kirov reservoir is 80 percent lower than at this time last year.

Kazakhstan is reportedly still requesting more water be released from Kyrgyz reservoirs, though it appears Kyrgyzstan simply does not have the water to give.

Why It’s Important: Kazakh Deputy Minister of Ecology and Natural Resources Galidulla Azidullin visited Zhambyl Province. He summed up what is really a problem for all of Central Asia.

“Every year, the shortage of water resources is becoming more and more noticeable,” Azidullin said. He added Kazakhstan is trying to reduce, to the extent possible, growing crops that require great amounts of water.

Climate change is already affecting Central Asia. The region has suffered drought the last three summers. This is obviously harder on downstream countries Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, and Turkmenistan.

However, as Kyrgyz officials have said, Kyrgyzstan is also dealing with reduced amounts of water. Farmers in the country are also complaining about lack of water for their crops.

Kyrgyzstan has water it could redirect towards its farmers but that would mean reducing or cutting off water to downstream countries.

The Latest Majlis Podcast

This week’s Majlis podcast looks at Central Asian governments’ use of transnational repression.

Several Tajik citizens have been extradited back to Tajikistan from European countries this year. Turkmen authorities are keeping closer tabs on the activities of Turkmen citizens in Turkey.

This week’s guests are:

What I’m Following

Tajikistan Looks for EU Preferential Trade Partner Status

Tajikistan is seeking to conclude a Generalized Scheme of Preferences+ (GPS+) agreement with the European Union.

GPS+ status provides partial or full removal of import duties on goods coming into the EU market for vulnerable low and lower-middle income countries. Tajikistan made the request for GPS+ status in 2019.

However, Tajikistan must first “implement 27 international conventions related to human rights, labor rights, protection of the environment and good governance.”

The website that reports on events in Tajikistan’s eastern Gorno-Badakhshan Autonomous Oblast posted a report on rights violations that should disqualify Tajikistan from receiving GPS+ status.

Turkmenistan Resumes Gas Exports to Iran

The CEO of National Iranian Gas Company Majid Chegeni said his country has resumed imports of Turkmen natural gas.

Turkmenistan cut off shipments of natural gas to Iran at the start of 2017, saying Iran owed $2 billion for gas supplies received a decade earlier. The two countries sued each other over the debt, but it was settled earlier this year.

Turkmenistan once exported eight billion cubic meters (bcm) of gas to Iran. Two pipelines with a combined capacity of 16 bcm connect the two countries.

Fact of the Week

Kazakhstan’s Bureau of National Statistics said as of July 1, the population of the country was 19,899,377.

Thanks for Reading

Thanks for reading Central Asia in Focus! I appreciate you sharing it with other readers who may be interested.

Feel free to contact me on Twitter or by responding to this email, especially if you have any questions, comments, or just want to connect about topics concerning Central Asia. See you next week for more on what’s happening in Central Asia.

Until next time,