Today, after more than a year since the declaration of global pandemic around mid-March 2020, we are finally able to contemplate its tremendous impact on all spheres of life, most of which could now be examined in a new light, as various local and global statistical data and analyses for the last year are being revealed. As is widely claimed, among the broad range of social, economic and political consequences of the pandemic, the impact on world demographics, whether through mortality, fertility or migration, presents one of the biggest challenges for the countries to cope with [Chamie, 2021]. Indeed, as the recent United Nations report suggests the disruption of human mobility through closed borders and restricted travel slowed down the growth of international migrants alone by 27 per cent, affecting the lives of almost 281 million people living outside their country of origin [UN DESA, 2021]. On the other hand, the disruptive consequences of the pandemic affected not only the international mobility, but also domestic migration, changing the conventional patterns of mobility between urban and rural areas, residential and touristic settlements, industrial and educational centers within countries.
In this regard, Kazakhstan is not an exception, as the country experiences all the consequences of the disruption of international travel, closed borders, and social-economic impediments caused by the global pandemic, trying to mitigate the negative consequences and adapt to new realities. According to the recent official statistics of March 2021, the population of Kazakhstan reached 18,917,200, which is a 245,300 (or 1.3 percent) increase compared to the same period of the last year [Kazinform, 2021a], however, the dynamics of the demographic transformation in the post-pandemic year seem to be a little more complicated and migrations played an important role, since the population growth facilitated by the relatively high birthrate do not reflect persistent outflow of the populations in recent years.
For the first nine months of 2020, the year marked by lockdowns and travel bans, 21,079 people left Kazakhstan as opposed to 9,233 arrived, and with a net outflow of 11,846 people, the country became the leader among the Eurasian Economic Union (EEU) countries by population loss due to emigration [Saruar, 2021]. Throughout 2020, the number of people who permanently left the country reached 29,100, which is 35.6 percent less than in 2019, but taking into consideration the realities of the post-pandemic world, the number still seems significant, since from 2014 on the outflow of the population was steadily on rise [Ranking.kz, 2021]. For the same period, Russia, for instance, saw a net inflow of 81,653 people (433,401 arrived / 351,748 left) [Saruar, 2021], while 656,000 foreigners were granted Russian citizenship in 2020 alone, of which 43,000 were former Kazakh citizens [Izvestiya, 2021].
More than half of those who left the country in 2020 held qualified professional degrees and specializations, primarily technical ones, and the outflow of specialists outnumbered their inflow 3.5 times (15,600 to 4,400) [Ranking.kz, 2021]. This alarming issue seems to be of great importance, as the First President of Kazakhstan Nursultan Nazarbayev expressed his worries about youth leaving the country in one of his public addresses in 2020 [Sputnik Kazakhstan, 2020]. In the meantime, domestic migration between the regions of Kazakhstan dropped in 2020 by 20 percent, while the migration within the same region dropped by 26 percent [Kursiv.kz, 2021].
As a response to the ongoing outflow of the population, which expectedly slowed down during the pandemic, but did not lose its relative pattern, the government intensified its efforts to create the New Concept of Migration Policy for years 2022-2026, aiming, among other things, at reforming the migration system, facilitating adaptation for ethnic repatriates and foreign immigrants, and prioritizing local employment. Nevertheless, the government issued 17,300 employment quotas for foreign specialists in 2020 [Primeminister.kz, 2021]. On 31 December 2020, the Minister of Labor and Social Protection announced the foreign labor quotas for 2021, expanding their number to 28,305 [Gov.kz, 2021a]. As of 1 April 2021, 14,794 foreign workers are legally employed in Kazakhstan, of which Chinese (3,617), Turkish (1490), and Indian (1098) citizens make up the Top 3 [Gov.kz, 2021b].
As for the foreigners in general, a great number of them could not leave Kazakhstan in due time, as international passenger transportation was disrupted, and the government had to issue a special decree to extent the legal stay of the foreigners in the country, while it had also facilitated the return of 133,000 foreign workers to their home countries [Kazinform, 2021b]. Moreover, the Ministry of Interior went even further and allowed the foreigners with expired travel documents, entry visas or residence permits to stay in Kazakhstan until June 5 [Forbes.kz, 2021].
On the whole, amidst its intensified mass vaccination campaign, Kazakhstan, as any other country, is looking forward to the end of the COVID-19 pandemic and gradual normalization of life, including human mobility and migrations. However, it has to take into consideration the prevalent migration pattern and take remedies to prevent the undesirable outcome.
Note: The views expressed in this blog are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the Institute’s editorial policy.
Dr. Zardykhan had completed his Ph.D. dissertation in 2007 at Bilkent University on Pan-Islamic appeals and Holy war propaganda in Ottoman-Russian confrontation during the First World War. He holds two MA degrees from Bilkent University and Central European University. His primary research interests include Eurasian history, Middle East Politics, International Security, Ethnic and Religious conflicts, nationalism and identity formation, and he had published in several prominent journals including Middle Eastern Studies, Asian Ethnicity and Central Asian Survey.