According to the United Nations estimations for 2010, the percentage of international migrants in Kazakhstan will reach 19.5% of the population of the republic. It means that almost each fifth Kazakhstani resident will be a foreign migrant.
This indicator is even higher than in the U.S., the largest migrant receiving country in the world. Estimated 42.8 million migrants in America build 13.5% of the country population. At the same time in comparison with the U.S. and other developed countries Kazakhstan doesn't have clear migration policy. Dr. Rafis ABAZOV thinks that Kazakhstan should adopt Australian and Canadian practice and not to be scared from Chinese migration. Other suggestions from CIS countries migration' researcher are in the interview, taken by Dinara TUSSUPOVA exclusively for BizMedia web-site:
-How can you describe the current situation in migration processes in Central Asia?
-When we talk about migration we need to remember about the major changes in the global labor market. First, national labor markets around the world experience a huge change in demands and supply sides under the pressure from globalization, technological change and emergence of the knowledge economy. Second, we have witnessed a growing demand for high-skilled "knowledge" workers, which in the word of Columbia University economist Jagdish Bhagwati "exploded..[due to] information technology revolution" and the emergence of a tough competition for talented professionals. Third, many countries around the world experience a massive structural adjustment, as they enter post-industrial era by promoting 'New Economies' and downsizing their low-tech industrial sectors and low-skilled labor. Fourth, some regions around the world go through the period of demographic imbalance, as some countries have aging population and labor shortages, while others have huge labor surplus and significant unemployment and underemployment.
These changes affect Kazakhstan in many ways. For example, Kazakhstan still struggles to retain its industrial base and jobs in its industrial sector and it faces difficulties in building up its knowledge economy (IT, high-tech, nano-technologies, etc.). Kazakhstan also experience pressure in its low-skilled sector, especially in the construction, where it has a lot of unemployed and underemployed people (both Kazakh nationals and nationals from neighboring countries) who need training for work in the post-real estate boom era.
-Has the crisis somehow impacted to the regional migration or the trends are the same?
-You know, we have to remember that different countries had different challenges, and global economic and financial crisis affected some regions of the world differently. High energy prices and some currency reserves have helped to postpone the beginning of the crisis in Kazakhstan and to some extent in Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan. However, when Kazakhstan has entered the crisis it has faced a double trouble: steep fall in incomes from energy exports and the exposure to credit crunch from overinvesting into the real estate sector. This has affected the labor market as well. During last 12-14 month we have seen a considerable decline in construction, banking, services and some other sectors. Thus, a lot of people in Kazakhstan lost their job - Kazakhstan's nationals as well as foreign workers from Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. In the United States, some small and medium enterprises (SMEs) have absorbed some workers during the crisis. This has not happen in Central Asia in general and in Kazakhstan in particular due to quite an unfavorable environment for SMEs. Check the World Bank ranking Doing Business: you'll see that Central Asian republics don't take top positions there (for example, according to the ranking for 2009, Tajikistan is on 178 th place and Uzbekistan is on 148th place (out of 181 in the world) in dealing with construction permits, while Kazakhstan is on 175 th). This data indicates in a way that it's very difficult to start new businesses in these countries. Therefore, all countries in the region experience a huge pressure on their labor markets from young people who needs to find job and income opportunities,
-With the beginning of the crisis there was a prediction that such countries as Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan will have a huge influx of the citizens who lost their job abroad and go back home. However we can see that the percentage is not as high as it was predicted. What's the reason of that?
-The picture is not that simple and straightforward, as it is very difficult to count illegal and temporary labor migrants. Actually, two competing schools of thought try to explain the changes in labor market in the time of downturn. One school emphases the economic motivation for migration and sees migration as an act of pure rational economic decision in maximizing returns from work and investments into travel. The representatives of this school say that foreign workers, who lost their job, usually go back to home countries because they need the means to cover living expenses and to generate incomes to send home. The second school emphasizes psychological and social motivations for migration, as it is a psychological expectation of better incomes and better life that motivates people to move. According to this school labor migrants believe that the economic difficulties are temporary and they do not want to go back home as the members of their families and communities have high expectations for their success. In addition, going home might be risky as the host countries may try to tighten migration policy and entry regime.
Thus, from pure economic point of view it is rational for labor migrants to return home in the time of downturns. However, uncertainties in future migration policies and future opportunities to work in host countries strongly motivate labor migrants to stay in the host country.
Migrants are required
-And probably people are not sure to find new job back home...
-Right. We know that the governments of Tajikistan or Kyrgyzstan have had serious difficulties in implementing economic policies that would have lead to generating about 40,000-50,000 new jobs for young people every year in agriculture, industries and services. Thus, many labor migrants who are now in foreign countries are very anxious to return, as they are not sure if they can find jobs or business opportunities for themselves at home.
-What about Kazakhstan as a country-receiver for labor migrants?
-During the last 10-12 years there was an unprecedented growth in incomes, household wealth and consumption around the world, including Kazakhstan. The high incomes generated a lot of demand for better housing, which in turn led to real estate boom across the globe - the US, China, Russia, Europe - it was everywhere. The local Kazakhstan's labor market could not meet the demands; therefore, so many foreign workers entered the construction and some other related sectors. In the time of the economic downturn, the construction sector shrank considerably, so there are not enough jobs for all these people today. However, the situation in the labor market might change in future, when the high growth would return.
- Don't you think that in the time of crisis the migrants would compete with local workers at the Kazakhstan's labor market?
- It depends on the directions of economic development for Kazakhstan and government's policy on job creation. The government might decide to support and develop its traditional industrial and agricultural sectors, thus creating jobs in those sectors and easing the competitions at the traditional labor market. However, the government also might decide to use the opportunities created by the global crisis and to enter new internationally competitive sectors and to acquire new technologies, which are available cheaper now in the international market. This development would also create new jobs, but very different types of jobs, which require very different types of skills.
Paradoxically, in order to generate new jobs Kazakhstan badly needs highly-skilled professionals including foreigners. For example, in order to develop its venture IT sector - Kazakhstan needs venture IT professionals and venture investment professionals; to successfully sell the products of the Kazakhstan's SMEs in the international market - it needs international marketing and sales professionals, and it also needs the access to the networks of international sales professionals and diasporas.
- As far as I remember you suggested that if migrants don't find their niche they even couldn't find any job abroad...
- Several recent international business studies of successful new businesses in the US and UK suggested that networks and diasporas play huge role in developing competitive advantage for migrants in new markets. Every newcomer needs to compete with local employees in a host country and s/he needs to find areas where competition is less and where local are less interested and are less involved. For example in the U.K. many Indians found their niche in catering business establishing curry houses all over the country; about 20-30 year ago British were more likely to have traditional food - fish-and-chips only. No variety, no other options, no competition. Today you may find a curry-house almost in every town or village of the U.K. In the US, Bangladeshis found their niche in hospitality business, as they own or manage a large number of motels. Or take an example of the Uzbek community in the greater New York area - a large network of Uzbek food restaurants have been flourishing for decades. Today the most successful traders in the US are Chinese, as they entered the market with various products, including electronics and IT services.
If Kazakhstan would like to diversify its exports besides raw products, it needs to find niches for its products. The country needs people who have knowledge of international trade system and market and access to the international networks, for example, Chinese trade networks. The success of Chinese small trade is not only in their number but also in their strong network all over the world.
Chinese are coming?
- Regarding Chinese migration, do you think that this is an agenda topic for Central Asia the same as for other countries such as Russia?
- Well, I understand that the issue of Chinese migration is s a highly politicized topic. Talk to local policymakers and many of them would probably say that there are hundreds of thousands of Chinese, who come to the country, marry local citizens to acquire the citizenship and buy the land. Yet, the official statistical sources show that just few hundreds entered the country and the region. The truth is somewhere in the middle. The main issue is not in Chinese migration or the migration of other groups. The main issues here is how to develop effective policies to efficiently regulate how many people enter the country, policies that attract the most valuable migrants to the country, and policies that make them loyal citizens of the host country. The examples of the so-called migrant friendly countries illustrate a success of clear policies and regulations. Australia, Canada and New Zealand have the point system (points are given for such categories, as education, work experience, and profession; migrants need a certain number of points to move into the country) with clear rules for migration, including quotas for number of migrants per year, a special points system to attract best world-class skills, experience and expertise and clear policies in providing citizenship. Thus, there is a very clear picture how you enter the country, how you stay or go back. These policies are very flexible. For example if Australia experience a shortage of nurses and medical doctors and expect that the local professionals would not fill the gap, the government gives additional points for the medical professions, if the country needs engineers - additional points for engineers and so on.
Under such a system a number of Chinese (and others) entered those countries and contributed to the development of SMEs, international competitiveness and GDP growth in those countries. They brought their expertise, their skills and hard-working attitude.
- Even before the crisis Kazakhstan experienced labor conflict, there was mass affray between Kazakhs and Turkish workers in the Western Kazakhstan. Do you think that in crisis time the number of conflicts will increase?
- Social and political development is not a weather to forecast, as it always depends on effectiveness of public policies and governance. It is possible to avoid and mediate conflicts if the government officials would develop proactive policies preventing misunderstandings and miscommunications and if they implement social and political technologies and know how.
- Actually as showed the conflict between Kazakhs and Turkish workers, one of the reasons was the corruption of the local authority that allowed the injustice at the salary system and so on...
- Again, I believe that this is the issue of effectiveness of the public policies and governance. However, the policies also depend on philosophical approach and political culture. In some political cultures, government officials often try to find 'kto vinovat' when there is a conflict or a problem. In other cultures, government officials move ahead and focus on 'chto delat' by looking for various social and political 'remedies' in order to find cure for the conflict and problems. I think the public policy textbooks are full of case studies and policy recommendations for solving many social and political problems.
- Is the number of current migrants in Kazakhstan enough to become a real political lobby?
- As far as I know Kazakhstani legislation doesn't allow non-citizens to vote for parties and political movements so we can't talk about lobbying from this point of view. But the migrants need political protection and they can somehow support individuals or groups who would promise them such protection. That happens all the time in many countries. And actually it might work especially when the government cannot protect rights of foreigners.
- Will Kazakhstan remain attractive for migrants in spite of the crisis?
- There are several factors, which would affect the attractiveness of Kazakhstan for international migration. First, structural changes in the national economy of Kazakhstan and success in development of the new competitive sectors of economy. Second, there are structural changes in labor market and success in job creation in the 'old' and 'new' economy. Third, future demographic trends and population growth in the country and in the region. Kazakhstan has enough resources to support the development of new sectors and to develop new industries; though, it should be done wisely. Nobel Prize winner in economics Dr. Joseph Stiglitz said that successful globalization involves strategies "in which governments, while relying on markets, have taken an active role in creating, shaping, and guiding markets, including promoting new technologies..." If Kazakhstan would succeed in implementing its ambitious plans and would develop a dynamic economy and dynamic business environment and generate new jobs - it would achieve sustainable economic growth, would become a nice country to live and would be an attractive place to migrate.
Demographic indicators and trends (source: United Nations Population Fund, 2008)
Rafis ABAZOV is an Adjunct Assistant Professor at the Harriman Institute/School of International and Public Affairs at Columbia University. His research interests include public policy and governance, democratization and history of population movement in the former Soviet Union with a focus on Central Asia. Dr. ABAZOV consulted UNDP project on international migration and UNIFEM project on labor migration in the CIS. His works won the Harriman Institute's Publication grant in 2006, Kazakhstan's Academy of Journalism award in 2007 and Central Asian Geographic Society award in 2008.