The Republic of Uzbekistan is a major migrant-sending country. Since the 2000s, external labour migration and sizeable internal migration have replaced outmigration for permanent residence – a defining feature of the 1990s. At present, the volume of permanent migration in both directions is insignificant. In 2020, only 1.105 persons immigrated while 13.648 persons emigrated from the country (1.300 and 19.700 in the first 9 months of 2021 respectively).
With a fast-growing population of over 35 million in 2021 (58% of whom are of working age), Uzbekistan is the most populous in Central Asia. Since 2010, the population increased by more than 6 million, with a further growth of 8 million expected by 2035. Each year, some 600,000-700,000 people enter the domestic labour market, which is unable to absorb such considerable labour force. The unemployment rate increased from 9% in 2019 to 10.5% in 2020. It is even higher for the age group 16-30 (17.1%) and among women (14.7%). While recent reforms allowed decreasing the national poverty to 11% in 2019 (11.5% in 2020), labour migration remains a necessity as manifested by its massive scale and the considerable remittances resulting from it, amounting to 4 billion U$ per year or 7% of GDP (58 billion U$).
In 2019, the Agency for External Migration of Uzbekistan estimated the number of migrant workers at 2.6 - 3 million (about 1.7 million in 2020). Some 1.6 million of them worked in Russia and another 531.000 in Kazakhstan. Due to COVID-19, the latter number has declined to approximately 200.000 persons. Given the considerable volume of informal employment, the real figure is hard to assess. Russia remains the prime destination for Uzbek migrant workers. In the first nine months of 2021, their number exceeded 3.3 million – a three-year record - according to Russian official sources. Over 3 million came for employment reasons, with 84.500 channelled through the bilateral labour agreement. While most remain in Russia only temporarily, a growing number has applied for Russian citizenship. The 80.000 applications registered in the first nine months of 2021 have set a new record.
Attempting to diversify the geography of labour migration, Uzbekistan concluded labour agreements with South Korea (2006) and Japan (2019), while also negotiating with Poland, UAE and Saudi Arabia. Compared to Russia and Kazakhstan, the actual number of Uzbek labour migrants in these countries remains marginal. In 2019, South Korea set a quota of 3.400 Uzbek nationals per year, with many more coming through other channels. In 2019, the number of Uzbek residency holders in South Korea amounted to 26.000 (8.500 for visiting and employment; nearly 3.400 for unskilled employment). In 2020, some 62.000 Uzbeks worked in South Korea, many of whom presumably arrived before the pandemic, as their flow declined more than three-fold in 2020 and has not recovered fully in 2021. In recent years, Turkey has also become a popular destination for Uzbek labour migrants, recording some 45.000 Uzbek residents in 2019, 30.500 – in 2020, and over 66.000 in the beginning of 2021. According to estimates of the Uzbek Ministry of Economic Development and Poverty Reduction, some 43.000 Uzbek labour migrants resided in Tukey in 2020.
Within the EU, the number of Uzbek residence permit holders stood at around 23.000 at the end of 2020, as in the previous three years. Some 26% were issued for remunerated activities, with the majority recorded in Poland and Czechia. Germany and Sweden issued 8.000 permits - mostly on family grounds. Meanwhile, Latvia issued most permits for studying. The number of Uzbek refugees in the EU did not exceed 1.000 in the past decade, albeit a slight upward trend. In 2021, there were some 3.000 Uzbek refugees and 5.200 asylum seekers worldwide, most of whom were hosted by the US and Sweden. The number of irregular Uzbek nationals in the EU is relatively insignificant, estimated at 900 in 2020, with some 1.500 ordered to leave and 215 refused entry.
In terms of immigration, Uzbekistan is home to over 1.1 million foreign nationals, most of whom originate from Russia, Ukraine, Belarus and Azerbaijan. However, the immigrant stock is steadily declining. The coronavirus pandemic considerably affected immigration to Uzbekistan, with some 2 million border crossings recorded in 2020 as compared to 5.3 million in the first half of 2019. Overall, 95% of foreigners come to Uzbekistan from the CIS countries. In 2020, 344.000 foreigners received a temporary residence permit, and some 3.000 permanent residence. The same year, 8.141 foreign nationals – mostly from Russia, Kazakhstan and Ukraine - received a work permit. In-migration to Uzbekistan also includes returning Uzbek migrants. In 2020, about 498.000 labour migrants returned to Uzbekistan, finding themselves with no fixed income. In response, the country’s labour authorities mobilised a set of short and mid-term measures, including the forthcoming National Employment Strategy 2030, which should consolidate the various efforts undertaken in response to the coronavirus impact.
In December 2021, the country still hosted almost 60.000 stateless persons. However, the country is undertaking significant steps to prevent and reduce statelessness. A new provision in the Citizenship law passed in April 2020 allows most stateless persons to obtain Uzbek citizenship. In recent years, Uzbekistan also conferred nationality to some 10.000 stateless people by amending its birth registration practices. It introduced universal birth registration, also for children born to undocumented parents, and launched a nationwide campaign to identify and register all cases of unregistered births.
Over the past three years, Uzbekistan hosted only 13 refugees - all from Afghanistan - under the UNHCR mandate. The country has ratified neither the 1951 Refugee Convention nor the related New York Protocol of 1967. Consequently, there are no legal and administrative norms governing the status of refugees. There are currently 13,658 Afghan citizens in Uzbekistan, with the vast majority – 13,032 – residing temporarily in the country. Given the Taliban’s return to power in 2021 and following pressure from international rights groups, the Uzbek government committed not to deport Afghans whose visas are expiring.
Uzbekistan endorsed the Global Compact for Migration and is a party to various regional migration dialogues. In July 2019, the Decree on “Additional measures to further improve the system of combating trafficking in persons and forced labour” transformed the Interdepartmental Commission of the Republic for Combating Human Trafficking into a National Commission under the guidance of the President of the Senate. In August 2020, the country’s 2008 law on human trafficking was amended introducing new concepts, preventive measures, and a procedure to identify victims of human trafficking, including minors. Since 2018, the country has issued over a dozen decrees and resolutions to protect the rights and interests of Uzbek citizens and streamline the national system of labour migration. In particular, in October 2018 the country adopted the Law on Private Employment Agencies, which terminated the state monopoly on employment of citizens abroad. Moreover, the country has pledged to open representations of the Agency for External Labour Migration in key destination cities in Russia, Kazakhstan, South Korea, Turkey and UAE. In December 2020, Uzbekistan became an observer to the Eurasian Economic Union.