CIS residents still keen to migrate for work

By bne IntelliNews August 9, 2010

Clare Nuttall in Almaty -

The crisis forced millions of migrant workers to return home, but this has not dampened the enthusiasm among residents of the former Soviet countries for working abroad. In total, around 100m people in the region would be willing to move abroad, according to a Gallup Poll.

The poll of 13,200 adults in the 12 Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) countries and former member Georgia found that around one quarter - 70m people - would like to temporarily move abroad. 24% of respondents to the survey said they would like to move abroad for temporary work, and 25% said they would move to study or for a work-study programme.

An additional 30m people would be willing to move permanently away from their home countries. Armenians were the most keen to leave their country for good, with 39% of respondents saying they would be willing to move permanently abroad, as did 36% of Moldovans, 20% of Belarusians, and 18% of Kyrgyzstanis.

Meanwhile, 53% of Moldovan respondents said they would migrate for temporary work. "High unemployment and dependency on remittances, in addition to the likelihood that a family member is already working in another country, likely contribute to this relatively high percentage," says the report.

44% of Armenian respondents, 35% of Belarusian respondents and 34% of respondents from Georgia and Kyrgyzstan said they would move abroad temporarily for work.

Sending money home

In recent years, Tajikistan and Moldova have received the greatest influx of remittance payments from migrant workers, in both cases accounting for around one-third of GDP until the crisis struck. According to the Gallup poll, 24% of Tajik respondents said their households had received financial help in the form of remittances (either from within the country or from abroad) in the last 12 months. This was closely followed by Moldova, where 23% of respondents had received remittance payments.

In the depths of the crisis, millions of migrant workers were forced to return home or stopped remittance payments as work dried up. They included many from the Caucasus and southern Central Asia who left their homes to labour on construction sites in Russia and Kazakhstan where work has since stopped. Given the heavy reliance on payments from migrant workers in low-income CIS countries, this had a serious negative impact even in countries not directly affected by the original financial crisis.

Now, however, there are signs the situation is changing, with data from both Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan indicating that remittances are on their way back up. According to the National Bank of Kyrgyzstan, in January-May, remittances were up 32.6% compared with the same period of last year, with most payments coming from Russia or Kazakhstan. Meanwhile, in the first four months of this year, remittance payments were up 24% on year, according to UNDP data quoted by Eurasianet.

The Gallup report also notes that in addition to the funds sent back, migrant workers can also have a beneficial effect on their home countries once they return. "Not only will temporary workers send remittances while they are in another country, but most of them want to return - and when they do, they return with potentially valuable new experience and knowledge," says the report.

This applies in a majority of cases since overall respondents, especially those from Central Asia, were much keener to move abroad temporarily than to quit their country on a permanent basis. About two-thirds (68%) of those who want to leave temporarily do not want to migrate permanently, says the report.

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