Kazakhstan: Wave of Emigration to Russia Shows No Sign of Abating
The outflow of technically qualified and educated people from Kazakhstan has been growing steadily over the past four years. Most are heading to Russia.
As economy think tank Finprom.kz noted in a November 14 article analyzing freshly released official statistical data, the bulk of those leaving Kazakhstan are technical specialists, economists and teachers.
Over the first nine months of 2017, around 12,000 people secured residence in Kazakhstan for work or study. More than twice that amount, some 28,000 people, left for the same reasons. The divide between arrivals and departures is the greatest the country has seen in the past decade.
Between 2007 and 2011, the trend was heartening. Kazakhstan was registering a significant influx, in particular of qualified individuals, while few were leaving. The gap narrowed to almost nothing in 2012. And in the years that followed, the exodus began in the same time as an ever-diminishing numbers of people were aspiring to live in Kazakhstan. The amount of incomers, who predominantly arrive from fellow former Soviet nations, has more or less flatlined for the past four years.
Most of those emigrating are choosing Russia, according to the National Economy Ministry. Over the entirety of 2016, of the 33,000 people that left Kazakhstan, almost 29,000 were crossing the border to the north.
As political analyst Bolat Sultanov noted at conference in May, Kazakhstan is seeing its second historic wave of emigration. The first was registered after the collapse of the Soviet Union and was motivated by the social and economic turmoil of the times. Sultanov indicated that pensions were likely the deciding factor this time around. Monthly payments to retirees in Kazakhstan can be as low as $77 and tend to average around $127. Whereas in Russia since April 1, 2017 pensions vary from $145 to $567.
“The average salary for a teacher is around 84,000 tenge ($250). A doctor can make more than 130,000 tenge ($390), but only if he works in two places,” Sultanov said.
Meanwhile, Ziyabek Kabuldinov, director of the Yezvraziya research center, said at a roundtable in April that the bulk of emigres are ethnic Russians or from other predominantly Russian-speaking communities. In 2016, a little under 72 percent of the people leaving the country were ethnic Russians; 6.8 percent were Ukrainians, 9 percent were Germans and 2.6 percent identified as Tatars.
Kabuldinov said many are taking advantage of Russian state programs designed to encourage resettlement by their ethnic kinfolk by offering a fast-track to citizenship, employment and even early retirement.
The broader demographic trend in Kazakhstan, however, points to growth supported by healthy birth rates. While the wave of migration cited by Sultanov had brought about a dramatic slump by the late 1990s, the overall population figure has more than recovered, reaching more than 18 million this year.
Almaz Kumenov is an Almaty-based journalist.