Tajikistan’s Russian Dream

Letter from Dushanbe

A Tajik migrant worker looks through a window of a building at a vegetable market on the outskirts of Moscow, November 11, 2011. Denis Sinyakov / Reuters

As we drove beyond the concrete ruins of an old Soviet cement factory in Polygon, a tiny town in Tajikistan’s Rasht Valley, my Tajik taxi driver showed off his extensive knowledge of Moscow’s public transportation system. He told me about the best metro stops for transfers, how to shave kopecks off the fare, and his precise method for using the city’s buses in order to move more swiftly across the city.

He is not the only Tajik who feels so at ease navigating through Moscow. Since the end of the Tajik civil war in 1997, Tajikistan has sent an increasing number of migrants to Russia. Most of them are men, and they now number over a million, or around 50 percent of all of Tajikistan’s working-age males. These workers take odd jobs all over the country: some join the fishing crews off of the Kamchatka Peninsula; others sell food and knickknacks as street vendors in Moscow; most make their living in urban construction. It is hard to overstate the importance of the wages they send home. Indeed, Tajikistan is, as measured by share of GDP, the most remittance-dependent country in the world: at the equivalent of 47.5 percent of its economy in 2012. Between 1999 and 2013, this money helped lower Tajikistan’s poverty rate from 96 to 36 percent.

Migrant workers wait for work at a vegetable market on the outskirts of Moscow, November 11, 2011. Denis Sinyakov / Reuters

But now migration appears to be slowing. The cause is twofold: increasing fear of economic volatility in Russia, as the Russian economy stumbles beneath the weight of sanctions and falling oil prices, and stricter Russian immigration policies.

All of the conditions migrants look for—job prospects, earnings, and ease of travel—have worsened dramatically in Russia over the past year. Just as for Russian workers, there are fewer available jobs, and the real value of wages has fallen with the depreciating ruble. Migrants also now face a more daunting immigration process—including higher fees, longer waits, and

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