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Migration Policy Concepts of Kyrgyzstan: Are They Changing?

«Analysis of the conceptual documents in the field of migration shows that in the past decade there have not been major innovations. Kyrgyzstan still considers external migration as a source of remittances and as a tension reduction tool in the domestic labor market», – Anar Musabaeva, a political analyst from Bishkek, notes in her article for cabar.asia.

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Brief overview of the article:

  • The conceptual documents in the field of migration policy focus on external labor migration issues;
  • Kyrgyzstan considers labor migration, first of all, as a tool providing employment to the labor-surplus part of the population;
  • Despite the fact that government bodies began to avoid the usage of a popular term in the mid-2000s – “labor export”, general understanding and state approaches to labor migration have not changed;
  • The “Concept until 2010” had not been fully implemented. Policy instruments in the form of regional development, job creation and economic opportunities within the country have been stated, but not implemented in practice;
  • In the sphere of foreign policy, the old concept speaks mainly about the protection of migrants’ rights in the countries of their stay, whereas the “Concepts until 2040” spells out the logic of a country that purposefully prepares labor resources for traveling abroad;
  • Due to joining the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU), the new draft concept did not analyze the impact of Kyrgyzstan’s membership in this union on the situation in the field of external migration in the medium term.

Since gathering independence, Kyrgyzstan has faced the need to develop its own migration policy, since internal and external migration has become more significant. First of all, it was important to formulate the conceptual framework of the policy, in other words, to develop a system of views on the phenomenon and processes of migration, to determine the basic principles, priorities and governmental approaches towards solving problems related to migration.

Despite the fact that government bodies began to avoid the usage of a popular term in the mid-2000s – “labor export”, general understanding and state approaches to labor migration have not changed Photo: center.kg

The concept of migration policy until 2010 has lost its force. Over the past few years, there has been a discussion of a new concept project. The document was several times submitted to the Government Office and withdrawn for revision. Whatever the fate of the new concept would be, a comparative analysis will allow us to see whether the state’s understanding and approaches to migration have changed, whether some fundamental innovations in solving migration problems are offered, taking into account the new reality and, importantly, how much our government’s potential has changed in developing conceptual policy framework.

Conceptual documents on the migration policy of Kyrgyzstan over the years of independence.

Only a decade after Kyrgyzstan gained independence, a presidential decree dated April 28, 2000, adopted the “Concept of the State Demographic and Migration Policy of the Kyrgyz Republic”. The part concerning migration policy was later abolished, since in April 2004 a separate “Concept of migration policy of the Kyrgyz Republic until 2010” was adopted.

As part of the developing and approving process of the National Sustainable Development Strategy of the Kyrgyz Republic for 2013-2017, in July 2013, a working group including governmental agencies and public organizations was created, in order to develop recommendations for creating a new document in the field of migration. The work of this group resulted in the “Analytical note” provided to the Presidential Administration with recommendations for state migration policy formation. However, at that time, the new concept was not developed, and in September 2013, the Government of Kyrgyzstan adopted the “Program for promotion of employment and regulation of labor migration until 2020”, which was supplemented in 2014 by including in the program not only external, but also internal migration.[1]

A later attempt to develop a new concept of migration policy of the Kyrgyz Republic was made already in 2017. The State Migration Service twice during 2017 provided the Government Office with the developed draft concept. The project was withdrawn for revision and in January 2018 the updated project, already agreed with the ministries was submitted to the Government Office of the Kyrgyz Republic. At present, based on the information found on the website of the civil service, the document is still under development.

If shortly to characterize the conceptual documents in the field of migration policy adopted so far, it is possible to see that the main focus is done on issues of external labor migration.

This is not surprising, given that in the 2000s for Kyrgyzstan, issues of external labor migration came out on top. By that time, the issues of a large wave of emigration, connected with the mass departure of the Russian-speaking population from Kyrgyzstan to their historic homeland in the first years after the collapse of the USSR, turned out to be, so to say, in the past. As for the migration processes in the second decade of the independence period, they were already determined mainly by economic and social factors. Since the 2000s, Kyrgyzstan has already established a firm image and role of labor resources donor to other countries, mainly to the Russian Federation and Kazakhstan (approximately 95%).

It can definitely be said that the concepts and other documents in the field of migration are quite similar; especially in part that concerns external labor migration. Some emphasizes and verbal formulations change, but in general, all these concepts are written on the basis of state’s interest logic – the donor of labor resources. This means that Kyrgyzstan considers labor migration, first of all, as a tool providing employment to the labor-surplus part of the population.

Despite the fact that government bodies began to avoid the usage of a popular term in the mid-2000s – “labor export”, general understanding and state approaches to labor migration have not changed.

The rejection from this term was most likely caused by criticism from the public and a certain experts who take the view that it is not allowed to treat people as a product and source of remittances without taking into account the increasing negative effects of external migration. Moreover, in recent years, state bodies and political leaders in their rhetoric are trying to show commitment to the goals of creating decent economic opportunities for citizens within the country, improving employment conditions, and etc. In this context, it is perfectly coherent that after the expiration of the Concept of the Migration Policy of the Kyrgyz Republic until 2010, the new document adopted in 2013 focused on improving employment issues, claiming as priority training for potential migrants and measures to create jobs in the domestic labor market and preserve the country’s sufficient human resources. Despite the fact that labor migration has actually become a key sector of the economy over the years of independence, while migrant remittances now account for more than a third of GDP, in the course of numerous reorganizations of the structure of the government, the authorized body in the field of migration switched from one state agency to another. But even with the creation of the State Migration Service in 2015, the staffing support of this body is far from perfect. For example, in the existing staff of the State Migration Service, 5 people work in the migration policy development department and 6 people in the labor migration department abroad.

What was accomplished?

It is obvious that the “Concept until 2010” was not fully implemented. Certainly, some prerequisites for better migration control were formed both through the creation, practically from scratch, of a new regulatory framework on migration issues, and through information work with the population and bilateral cooperation with Russia and Kazakhstan to alleviate the situation of migrant workers in these countries. Certain efforts in the direction of diversification, or, expanding the geography of external migration, were also made, but success was far from large-scale. For example, from 2008 to 2018, only 3,031 citizens of Kyrgyzstan went to work in South Korea.[2]

In the late 2000s, measures were taken to teach potential migrants certain skills of Russian language. In the field of international cooperation, much work was done on the adoption of UN conventions in the field of migration, but due to the fact that many important UN conventions were not signed by the main recipient countries of migrant workers from Kyrgyzstan, this did not lead to significant improvements in the legal protection of migrants.

Unfortunately, not much had been done for internal migration settlement. Policy tools in the form of regional development, job creation and economic opportunities within the country have been stated, but not implemented in practice. It was not possible to prevent depopulation in the border areas and effectively protect the domestic market from the influx of foreign labor.

As it can be seen from the comparative table, there is a lot in common between the old and draft of the new migration policy concept.

General characteristics of the concepts:

In general, the objectives of migration policy are the same – to achieve controllability and adjustability of migration processes while taking into account sustainable development goals. Both concepts speak about the importance of the equal distribution of the population by territories. The old concept dealt with the need to develop peripheral and degrading cities, border and other strategically important villages, while reducing the burden on two large agglomerations – Bishkek and Osh. The new concept actually says the same thing – the development of a cluster economy and regional centers, and urbanization and an increase in the urban population.

In the field of external migration, a common area is the protection of workers’ rights in the countries of their stay, cooperation with the authorities of these countries, and assistance to their citizens in organized and legal employment.

There are almost no differences in the immigration section. This section covers the issues of Kayrylmans (ethnic Kyrgyz people who have resettled or are willing to move to the territory of Kyrgyzstan – Editor.), and their resettlement to historical homeland, adaptation and reintegration measures. There are also points related to measures on protecting the domestic market from the competition of foreign labor and the importance of fulfilling international obligations in the field of the rights of refugees and asylum seekers.

Differences

In the sphere of foreign policy, the old concept speaks mainly about the protection of the migrants’ rights in their countries of stay, and the “Concept until 2040”, spells out the logic of a country that purposefully prepares labor resources for traveling abroad. Claiming that mass migration will continue in the medium term, the authors of the Concept openly say that employment abroad is considered “as part of a national development strategy, since it allows taking advantage of global employment and attracting remittance flows.

Something new in the “Concept until 2040” is that it provides development of simplified measures for the entry and stay in the Republic of foreign investors and highly qualified specialists.

The difference in the section on international cooperation between the old and the new concept is that it reflects the new context after Kyrgyzstan joined the Eurasian Economic Union. It envisages the development of bilateral and multilateral measures to improve the order of stay of migrants in the EAEU countries, forming readmission agreements and counteract illegal migration.

The new concept includes a section on the support of compatriots, including measures aimed at preserving the cultural and historical ties of compatriots with their historic homeland, the development of Diasporas in other states, and the using their potential as tourists and investors.

Cons of the new concept

The new concept does not describe the concepts and terms used in the document. The analysis of the role and significance of Diasporas, the analysis of environmental migration and its consequences is not sufficient. The problem of “brain drain” and migration of highly qualified personnel to non-CIS countries and the EAEU is not covered at all. Meanwhile, based on its researches done in 2015 and 2017, the Gallup Institute (USA) informs that – if all people who wanted to leave Kyrgyzstan could realize their desire, Kyrgyzstan would lose 16% of its population. At the same time, the number of people with higher education and the number of young people between the ages of 15 and 29 could decrease by 22%.[3]

It is surprising that the new concept does not contain a section on the regulatory framework for migration policy. As it is known, although Kyrgyzstan received advantages in the field of labor migration after joining the EAEU, many issues remain unresolved, for example, issues of access to health insurance and pensions. Cooperation in the field of protection of the migrants’ rights leaves much to be desired.

Due to joining the EAEU, the impact analysis of Kyrgyzstan’s membership in the EAEU in the medium term has not been carried out, challenges and difficulties have not been identified, there is no discussion whether the need to diversify migration directions remains, and whether it is possible to minimize the risks of migration dependence of Kyrgyzstan on a limited number of countries.

The new draft concept also excluded a section on information and analytical support for migration policy; although over the past 10–15 years no significant changes have occurred in the systemic and comprehensive study of migration issues. Of course, there has been some improvement in the research and publication of the migration profile of the country by the National Institute for Strategic Studies, as well as studies of individual experts on migration issues, but this is clearly not enough to develop and implement effective migration policies.

It is very important to pay attention to the fact that the section “Expected Results” does not demonstrate goal-setting and is reminiscent of the routine work plan of a departmental body. The concept only aims to achieve the stabilization of spontaneous migration processes by 2026, what was said as far back as 2004. The draft of the new concept sets a goal – to ensure the reduction of the level of external migration by 2040. At the same time, no explanation is given about what stabilization of spontaneous processes means and how much it is supposed to reduce the level of external migration, in comparison with which period, and whether it will be connected with the success of migration policy or natural exhaustion of migration potential, is not proposed.

Conclusions:

Analysis of the conceptual documents in the field of migration shows that in the past decade there have been no major innovations. This is especially true of state approaches to external labor migration. As before, Kyrgyzstan considers external migration as a source of remittances and as a tool for reducing tension in the internal labor market.

Despite the rhetoric of the country’s leadership on the importance of migration policy, de facto this issue is not a priority of the state. It is significant that not a single concept of migration policy has clear implementation tools.

The regulatory framework on migration issues, although present, has many drawbacks, as it has been repeatedly pointed out by domestic experts. Meanwhile, this question completely dropped out of sight of the new concept authors.

Issues of environmental migration, brain drain and measures to minimize risks in these aspects of the problem are not disclosed.

Recommendations:

The concept is in need of improved analysis of migration issues, the inclusion of the conceptual apparatus and the disclosure of the environmental migration and “brain drain” problems, which are becoming extremely important for Kyrgyzstan.

It is important to preserve sections on information and analytical support for migration policy, as well as improving the regulatory framework on migration issues, including the period after Kyrgyzstan’s accession to the EAEU.

The concept does not make sense if it is not continued in specific strategies or programs with clear instruments for implementing the policy. Considering the importance of external labor migration for Kyrgyzstan, it is necessary to adopt a long-term national strategy in the field of external labor migration by taking into account national interests.

It is also important to relate the concept of migration policy of the Kyrgyz Republic to the Global Migration Treaty adopted by the UN in 2018 and consider the objectives and measures of this treaty applicable by Kyrgyzstan in order to improve the situation of migrant workers.


This article was prepared as part of the Giving Voice, Driving Change – from the Borderland to the Steppes Project implemented with the financial support of the Foreign Ministry of Norway. The opinions expressed in the article do not reflect the position of the editorial or donor.


[1] For more information, see: Kyrgyzstan’s accession to the Eurasian Economic Union: Impact on migration processes. Workbook. RSMD and NISI KR, Moscow, 2015.http://www.nisi.kg/images/publikacii/39_%D0%BA%D1%80_%D0%B5%D0%B0%D1%8D%D1%81_%D0%BC%D0%B8%D0%B3%D1%80_rab.tetrad_15.pdf

[2]https://24.kg/ekonomika/110214_zadesyat_let_bolee_treh_tyisyach_kyirgyizstantsev_vyiehali_narabotu_vkoreyu/

[3]http://news.gallup.com/migration/interactive.aspx?g_source=link_newsv9&g_campaign=item_245204&g_medium=copyhttp://news.gallup.com/migration/interactive.aspx?g_source=link_newsv9&g_campaign=item_245204&g_medium=copy