According to a new Russian law, beginning on January 1, 2015, citizens of Tajikistan wishing to enter Russia will no longer be able to use their domestic passports, but will instead need to produce an international passport, a diplomatic passport or a seafarer’s identity document. On November 20, Tajikistan’s Ministry of Transport notified airlines and the Tajik Railway Company to prohibit selling tickets to Russia for Tajikistanis attempting to travel on internal passports (AKI Press news agency, November 20). Migrants from this small, mountainous Central Asian republic who, after January 1, attempt to travel to Russia with internal passports may face deportation. Russian authorities have deported over 200,000 citizens of Tajikistan to date (Asia-Plus news agency, November 19).
The new regulation dates back to December 2012, when Russian President Vladimir Putin said that foreign passports should be mandatory for all nationals, including those from Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) member countries, to enter Russia beginning in 2015. At that time, he told journalists, “No later than 2015, entry into Russia should be permitted only by foreign passports, not domestic ones. I ask the relevant ministries to study this issue with their partners in the CIS” (AzerNews, June 24). Previously, according to a September 21, 2005, Russian law, Tajikistan’s citizens wishing to enter Russia needed only to produce a domestic passport and a birth certificate for children under 16 years old (RIA Novosti, November 19).
Under the new regulations, as of January 1, Russia will not allow in any more Tajikistanis without international travel passports. This same prohibition will extend to citizens of Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan and all other CIS member states, with the exception of Kazakhstan and Belarus, which together with the Russian Federation are members of the Eurasian Customs Union. Beginning on January 1, 2015, the Customs Union itself will be replaced by the Eurasian Economic Union (EEU).
According to Tajikistan’s embassy in Moscow, obtaining an international passport costs $240–330 (spr.ru, accessed November 24). This cost will put a severe strain on the income of many Tajikistanis, as the country’s current minimum wage is only $43 per month (Kabar, October 23). Whatever the effects of the new legislation on the country’s migrant laborers, Tajikistan’s government will have to find a way to cope, as these workers’ remittances now comprise more than half of the state income—the highest rate in the world. The World Bank reported in its most recent migration and development brief that Tajikistani migrants’ transfers totaled more than $4 billion in 2013, the equivalent of 52 percent of the Central Asian republic’s GDP, noting, “the impulse to migrate remains strong, as evidenced by reports that 800,000 people left Tajikistan in 2013 (about 10 percent of the population), with about 80 percent going to Russia” (worldbank.org, April 11).
Tajikistan’s ongoing economic crisis and the government’s inability to provide its population with decent employment in-country is driving its emigrant labor policy. Even President Emomali Rahmon acknowledges this, recently announcing that 150,000 students graduate annually from the country’s universities and professional schools, but only one in seven is successful in finding relevant employment domestically (Voice of the Islamic Republic of Iran External Service, October 20).
According to Russia’s Federal Migration Service (FMS), Tajikistan is the third-largest country of origin for people entering Russia. FMS statistics report that as of June 1, 2014, there were 11.1 million foreigners in Russia, including 2.57 million Uzbeks, 1.6 million Ukrainians and 1.17 million Tajiks, with 35 percent of foreigners who enter Russia going to Moscow and the Moscow region. The FMS figures vary slightly from those of the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which states that there are about 1.5 million citizens of Tajikistan in Russia (Kommersant, June 24).
Earlier in the year, Russia imposed other conditions on Tajikistan’s migrant labor. On April 21, President Putin signed into law new regulations that came into force on September 1, requiring those applying for work permits in Russia to pass a Russian history and civics exam, in addition to an earlier requirement of a mandatory Russian-language test for foreign workers (Asia-Plus, October 23). Russian officials defend the new regulations as efforts to legalize and better integrate migrant workers, most of whom come from former Soviet Central Asia and many of whom work illegally.
Other officials attribute the new measures to combatting criminality. Viktor Ivanov, of the Federal Service for Drug Control, earlier said that the introduction of international passports for migrants, including those from Tajikistan, will reduce drug smuggling into Russia by a factor of 30 (BBC-Russian service, June 23).
The effect of Tajikistan possibly joining the EEU on the country’s labor migrants is also unclear. The head of the Association of Tajik Youth in Russia, Izzat Amon, observed, “Our country’s joining this organization will not exempt our citizens from Russia’s existing migration laws. This is a purely economic union and it has nothing to do with migration. It is not known what will happen to those two countries, Kazakhstan and Belarus, which have been compelled to join this organization, because only Russia and only the Russians will benefit from the Customs Union” (Farazh, November 5).
The new regulations are already causing difficulties; Tajikistan’s Migration Service has expressed concern that Tajikistanis intending to visit Russia in the second half of November will not be able to return home until the new legislation enters into force. Whereas, those migrant workers from Tajikistani currently working in Russia under the new regulations could become offenders (Polit.ru, November 19). Whatever the difficulties, the Tajiks entering Russia will likely have to grit their teeth and endure whatever tightened regulations the Russian government institutes. While Tajikistan’s accession to the EEU may eventually ease these regulations, the root causes of the country’s shortage of gainful employment are deeply rooted and systemic; and these are unlikely to change in the short term.