Uzbekistan: Tashkent Residency Rules Eased, But Headaches Persist
For out-of-towners, moving to Uzbekistan’s capital Tashkent has long meant playing a game of cat-and-mouse with the police.
In the year since she moved to Tashkent, Yulduz Hamrayeva, a native of the southern Kashkadarya region, was fined twice for failing to present a valid residence permit, known universally by the Russian word propiska. Earlier this month, in a change of government policy that should ease hassles for many outsiders in Tashkent, the government adopted a decree on simplifying the registration system.
“I am very pleased that we [short-term residents] are allowed to register temporarily. A week ago, I received a residence permit for a period of six months. This gives me the opportunity to find a job and send my two children to kindergarten,” Hamrayeva told EurasiaNet.org.
A government decree on the revised propiska rules for outsiders and foreigners living in Tashkent was published online on October 17.
The main beneficiaries of the registration rules have always been government employees. The decree, which was signed by acting president Shavkat Mirziyoyev on October 7, lists 59 state bodies and organizations bearing the right to grant permanent propiskas. These include the presidential administration, the cabinet of ministers, the Constitutional Court, the Supreme Court, the National Security Service, the Central Bank and major state corporations.
For those affiliated with such agencies, registration is available permanently for as long as they are employed with the government body. An elite group of people is entitled to extend registration rights to members of their family. At the moment, only spouses or children can benefit from the family registration.
As for those not working for state bodies, registering is much harder, but at least it is possible.
Prior to July, temporary propiskas were granted, albeit arbitrarily. And then suddenly, for reasons uncertain, outsiders were no longer eligible for registration papers. Following the death of President Islam Karimov, authorities reverted to unusually relaxed rules. It is uncertain that this change of approach was in any way related to Karimov’s demise.
Still, people hoping to receive a propiska needed to meet certain requirements, such as being in possession of a rental agreement. Renting an apartment can cost anything north of $150 monthly, depending on location and the size of the premises.
Without a regular income, even that is far from straightforward.
Nodir, a 36-year-old from the Kashkadarya region, left behind a wife and three children and came to the capital in the hope of finding some gainful employment. At the moment, he is living in a half-built house lacking heating, electricity or gas. The owner allows Nodir to sleep in the shell under construction while working as a watchman. During the day, he looks for work, at night he guards the house.
“At the end of 2014, I was deported from Russia for violating the registration regime. Now I am in Tashkent in the hope of finding full-time work. There is work on the building sites, but because I don’t have a propiska, they won’t take me on. You have to work for people building their own homes or commercial construction sites,” Nodir told EurasiaNet.org.
The propiska policy traces its origins back to Tsarist times, when the system was used to prevent the free movement of the peasantry. It was later embraced by the Soviet regime as a means of maintaining control over the population. Following 1991, most former Soviet countries scrapped the system in name. Yet, in many places it remains in force.
Uzbekistan’s motivation for maintaining a propiska system in Tashkent is rooted in part in a government desire to discourage people from leaving the provinces to seek work in a city that is already crowded. With the tightening of immigration legislation in Russia, tens of thousands of unemployed Uzbeks are returning to their home country, compounding the already existing problem.
Restrictions on free movement are, however, technically in breach of Article 28 of the constitution, which states that “a citizen of the Republic of Uzbekistan shall have the right to freedom of movement on the territory of the Republic, as well as to free entry to and exit from it, except in the case of restrictions as prescribed under the law.”
Reluctance to uphold that provision stems from the rampant joblessness that plagues the country. Demography expert Shavkat Rakhmatullayev said that Uzbekistan has since 1991 seen a 70 percent increase in the size of the able-bodied population.
“Most of the growth is accounted for by the rural population. This exacerbates the problem of employment among the labor force and intensifies the urgent need to create new jobs in rural areas,” Rakhmatullayev said.
If outsiders are annoyed by the registration rules, residents of Tashkent are delighted. Many long-term inhabitants worry that tinkering with the existing rules could lead to rising crime rates and greater competition for already scarce jobs amid a stagnant economy.
According to official figures, 60 percent of the population lives in rural areas. The economic system fostered by Karimov, the late president, now seems unable to provide enough work for the 30 million-plus population. Accordingly, many are left with a paltry choice of leaving for the capital or abroad, usually to Russia and Kazakhstan, or sometimes further afield, to South Korea and the Middle East.
Until 1999, there had been no major issues with the propiska for people arriving in Tashkent. That all changed with a terrorist attacks in 1999 that precipitated a tightening of the registration rules.
“Tashkent became a virtually closed city, where only public servants, personnel of the Ministry of Interior Affairs … and the families of citizens already residing there [were] permitted to move legally. Notaries were prohibited from registering sales or purchases of property in Tashkent, if the buyer did not have a permanent propiska in the capital,” researcher Malika Tukmadiyeva noted in a January 2016 paper studying the propiska system across the region.
But for those lacking the requisite paperwork — namely, a rental agreement — things still are not getting easier.
Dilshod, a native of the Surkhandarya region bordering Afghanistan, shared an apartment with fellow villagers, but after a neighbor complained, a district police officer arrived to confiscate his passport. If he is to get his document back, he will have to pay a fine equivalent to five times the official minimum salary — a total of around 750,000 sum ($115).
“I have to hide from the police all the time. They torment us and stiff us with fines. The police say that we have no right to be here without a residence permit. But I need a job in the capital, otherwise people back home are going to go hungry. I just don’t understand why it is that in my own country I cannot live and work,” Dilshod told EurasiaNet.org.