Who is behind remittances? A Profile of Uzbek Migrants

05 Mar 2015

 UNDP Uzbekistan: Remittances from Russia to Uzbekistan, mln USD

Blog by Ziyodullo Parpiev


We think we know everything about remittances flowing from host countries to source countries: amount of money, its transfer and what the remittances are spent on. We also know that, by positively contributing to consumption and poverty reduction, remittances can transform livelihoods of not only families receiving them, but also whole neighborhoods, regions and countries. But do we know about people who are sending the remittances, about families who depend on them, about neighborhoods which are being transformed by them? The goal of this blog post is to shed more light on the people behind remittances.

Just few words about the importance of remittances in Uzbekistan: since 2009, remittances from Russia have increased at double-digit rates, and exceeded 6.6 billion U.S. dollars (approximately 12% of GDP) in 2013. It is estimated that due to the ongoing Russian ruble crisis, amount of remittances started falling already in 2014.

A recent World Bank study (Ajwad et al, 2014) estimates that 2 million Uzbek citizens lived outside the country abroad as of 2010, which amounts to an emigration rate of approximately 7 percent of the population. The mobility rate is more than double the world average (3.2 percent) and that of other middle-income countries (2.7 percent), yet lower than that of Europe and Central Asia as a whole (10.7 percent).

Major destination countries for the Uzbek migrants are Russia and Kazakhstan, followed by Ukraine, European Union countries and South Korea. According to the Russia’s Federal Migration Service, as of January 20, 2015, 2.2 million Uzbek citizens stay in Russia, of which 81% percent is of working-age population. The number of Uzbek citizens residing in Russia has recently decreased after peaking up at 2.7 million in August 2014. The 2013 World Bank/GIZ survey data (as reported in Ajwad et al, 2014) shows that the Russian Federation hosts about 86 percent and Kazakhstan accounts for 12 percent of Uzbek migrants.

Over the years, a profile of Uzbek labor migrants has significantly changed. In the early 1990s a permanent migration of ethnic minorities, mostly Russians, Ukrainians, and Jews dominated the migration landscape. According to Uzbekistan’s State Committee for Statistics data, between 1991 and 2013 net 1.5 million people have permanently emigrated to other countries. The wave of permanent migration was especially high in the first half of the 1990s, but it has subsided and stabilized since the mid-1990s. In the 2000s labor migration has supplanted permanent migration as a dominant form of migration.

During 2000-2014, the number of labor migrants grew rapidly. Ivakhnyuk (2006) estimates that the total number of Uzbek migrants in the early 2000s was between 600,000 and 700,000, of which 550,000-600,000 migrated to Russia. From 2006 onwards, there has been tremendous growth in labor migration in the Commonwealth of Independent Countries (CIS) region due to the non-visa regime and rapid income growth in oil-exporting countries.

A fraction of the Uzbek migrants who obtained legal work permits in Russia had remained low until 2006. Graph2 shows that number of work permits rapidly increased between 2006 and 2008, and again since 2010. In the meantime, the number leveled off between 2008 and 2009 due to the adverse impact of the global financial and economic crisis. The sharp increase in the number of work permits reflects opening up of the job opportunities in large numbers.

Number of people who applied and got work permits has increased tremendously since the mid-2000s and reached 1.3 million by 2013. The graph also shows that the proportion of Uzbek migrants working legally has increased, but there is still large number of people working without formal contracts and thus socially not protected.

In the beginning of the 2000s, men constituted an absolute majority of labor migrants. The typical Uzbek migrant at the time worked seasonally, travelling to Russia and Kazakhstan in spring and going back to Uzbekistan in late fall or early winter (Marat, 2009). Maksakova (2006) reports that already in the middle of the 2000s there were signs of feminization of migration: the number of female migrants has grown faster, and as a result, share of female migrants in total migration has increased. Female migrants in the middle of the 2000s had average age of 42 years and secondary specialized education diploma. However, Recently Juraev (2012) reports that, in 2010, the proportion of women in the number of migrants was at 15%.

Florinskaya (2013) reports that migrants have become younger: between 2000 and 2010 the proportion of younger migrants (less than 29 years of age) had increased from around 25% to 40%. The migrants also became less educated and less fluent in Russian. Florinskaya (2013) also notices that labor migrants increasingly bring their families: about one third bring their spouse and about 10-15%bring their children.

Over the years, the seasonal character of labor migration has lessened and migration has increasingly become a long-term endeavor. According to the Russian Statistical Agency (Rosstat, 2010), in 2010 only 22.5% of migrants worked in Russia for less than six months, another 17% from 6 to 9 months, and more than 60% worked for 9 to 12 months and more. This shows that majority of migrants increasingly pursue a long-term strategy.

Ajwad et al (2014) looks at different skills that working age population in Uzbekistan possesses in three broad categories: cognitive (memory, literacy and numeracy), social (communications, workplace attitude, decision-making, and achievement striving) and technical skills. The study finds that working age adults who plan to migrate typically possess above average cognitive and non-cognitive skills, compared to adults who have no migration plans. Moreover, the returning migrants also have significantly higher cognitive and non-cognitive skills than non-migrants. The finding indicates that the return migrants usually enhance their skills further while in foreign countries. 

These findings point to the fact that when migrants leave the country, overall level of skills will fall, and when migrants return back, level of skills will rise. In other words, when net migration is negative (number of outgoing migrants exceeds number of returning migrants), a country may have brain drain, and when the net migration is positive, a country may have brain gain. Therefore, it is very important to be able to accommodate the returning migrants from Russia and elsewhere by providing them proper jobs and business opportunities.

Summing up, we can conclude that over the years the typical Uzbek migrant has become younger, less educated, and more motivated to succeed in foreign countries. Average duration of stay in Russia, the most important migration destination, has increased and migration has become less seasonal. Apart from these trends, there is evidence that feminization of migration and family migration have become a noticeable emerging trend.

The changes in the characteristics of a typical Uzbek migrant worker over the years seem to be in line with the predictions of a network theory. The network theory states that the existing migration networks decrease the costs and risks for new migrants once the number of migrants from particular country passes a critical threshold. There is little doubt that networks of migrants have helped enhance migration both in depth (lengthening the duration of stay) and in width (incorporating women, children, and the elderly in the migration process).If experience of numerous countries is any guide, Uzbek migrants will increasingly opt to stay in foreign countries permanently and form diaspora settlements.


Ajwad, M.I.; I. Abdulloev; R. Audy; S. Hut; J. de Laat; I. Kheyfets; J. Larrison; Z. Nikoloski and F. Torracchi (2014). The Skills Road: Skills for Employability in Uzbekistan. World Bank, Washington, DC., October.

Florinskaya, Y., (2013).  The Scale of Labour Migration to Russia, [online] Russian International Affairs Council. Available from: http://russiancouncil.ru/en/inner/?id_4=2343#top.

Ivakhnyuk, I. (2006). Migration in the CIS region: Common Problems and Mutual Benefits, UN/POP/MIG/SYMP/2006/10, June.

Juraev, A. (2012) Labor Migration from Uzbekistan: Social and Economic Impacts on Local Development. PhD thesis, University of Trento.

Maksakova, L., (2006). Feminization of Labour Migration in Uzbekistan. In: Rios, R.R., (eds.) Migration Perspectives: Eastern Europe and Central Asia. Planning and Managing Labour Migration. Vienna: IOM, pp. 133 – 145.

Marat, E., (2009). Labor Migration in Central Asia: Implications of the Global Economic Crisis, Singapore: Central Asia-Caucasus Institute Silk Road Studies Program.

Rosstat (2010).Monitoring of regular international labor migration in Russia (in Russian). Moscow, Russia.