BISHKEK (TCA) — Labor migrants are the main source of remittance to Kyrgyzstan. If it were not for their money, the country's GDP would have decreased by a third, including budget revenues and wages, Economy Minister Oleg Pankratov said at the fourth Mekendeshter (Compatriots) Forum held on August 8-9 in Cholpon-Ata, a resort city at Lake Issyk-Kul.
About 200 compatriots from 27 countries participated in the meeting, organized by the Initiatives of Roza Otunbayeva Public Foundation with the support from the Swiss Bureau for International Cooperation. Representatives of diasporas and compatriots living abroad shared their experience in implementing social and business projects in Kyrgyzstan and told their success stories.
According to official data, about 800,000 Kyrgyz citizens are working abroad, mostly in Russia. According to unofficial data, the figure exceeds one million. Their remittances to the homeland amount to about $2.5 billion annually.
Over the first half of 2018, the total inflow of remittances to Kyrgyzstan exceeded $1.2 billion, 13% more compared to the same period last year. Traditionally, the largest volume of remittances was from labor migrants from Russia followed by USA and Kazakhstan.
According to the World Bank, one from three persons lives below the poverty line in Kyrgyzstan’s villages. Most of the rural population receives income from agriculture and remittances from relatives working abroad.
The National Bank of the Kyrgyz Republic forecasts an increase in the inflow of remittances from labor migrants this year.
"The fact that many of our compatriots are living and working in different countries is not a tragedy but a modern phenomenon. They master new technologies and study democracy, and learn to develop. Therefore, we should use their experience and intellectual potential. We need to properly manage migration and benefit from it," said Roza Otunbayeva, the initiator of the forum and ex-President of Kyrgyzstan.
Labor migration is a temporary phenomenon, Economy Minister Pankratov believes. The Government should ensure that people, having gained experience and capital, were able to return home and work in Kyrgyzstan. The Government is now planning to stimulate the economy’s transition to industrial development. The largest number of jobs is generated in the industrial sector, primarily in the processing and light industry, he said.
The money that comes from labor migrants does not replenish the loss of the able-bodied population and the demographic gap in the country. If the migration continues in Kyrgyzstan, a situation may arise when the number of elderly people would prevail over the young population, experts say.
Council under the President
President of Kyrgyzstan attended the Compatriots’ Forum for the first time in its history since 2012. President Sooronbai Jeenbekov showed that he is seriously concerned about the problems of migrants and wants to help them.
"There are successful compatriots who have achieved much abroad and are going to invest in large investment projects in Kyrgyzstan, as well as to attract serious investments into our economy," Jeenbekov said.
Such patriotic contemporaries need a single platform for solving problems and achieving common goals. Jeenbekov proposed to create a Council under the President which would work with fellow-investors on an ongoing basis. The State will always support compatriots, he stressed.
The creation of the Council could settle the situation and keep it under control, experts say.
It is expected that the Council will include the Cabinet members involved in the migration issues, as well as representatives of the diasporas and the Presidential administration.
Initiatives of compatriots
The forum participants expressed concern that their children and grandchildren would forget their native language, culture and traditions.
They proposed to simplify the procedure for obtaining citizenship for ethnic Kyrgyz. They suggested introducing of a "meken-card" system (system of temporary suspension of citizenship). Citizens involved in this system will not be able to exercise their rights to vote or to be elected as well as to work in state bodies, but all other civil rights will be retained for them. In case of return, they will be able to regain their citizenship.
Entrepreneurs working in Russia offered to open representative offices of the Investment Promotion and Protection Agency of Kyrgyzstan in major Russian cities. If the Investment Agency has projects, Entrepreneurs abroad could discuss them and offer their Russian partners.
Many compatriots are ready to invest in Kyrgyzstan but the State should create conditions and provide support for them, for instance, tax incentives. Foreign compatriots who come to Kyrgyzstan and try to open their business here face various difficulties and obstacles. Despite the fact that they bring in investments from abroad, they have no benefits and work in Kyrgyzstan as ordinary companies.
The country’s future
After Kyrgyzstan gained independence in 1992, compatriots went abroad mainly to earn money. “But now many compatriots glorify Kyrgyzstan in science, education and culture,” President Jeenbekov said.
In the near future, a meeting of the National Council will be held, at which the long-term Development Strategy of the country will be discussed, which provides concrete steps aimed at rendering real support to compatriots abroad, the President said. The ideas and proposals voiced at the forum will be taken into account, he added.
According to the President, the society should preserve and multiply Kyrgyzstan’s historical heritage and be merciful to orphans, old people and the needy.
"In our society, there should not be homeless old people and abandoned children," Jeenbekov said.
The creation of new jobs and the elimination of unemployment are the main goals of the State, he said. For these purposes, the State conducts an uncompromising fight against corruption, and various gray schemes are eliminated. Efforts are being made to ensure transparency in the tax and customs spheres. The state takes steps to support exports of goods, helping businesses access major markets.
The President told compatriots about recent measures to support labor migrants, especially those living and working in the Eurasian Economic Union member countries. The problems of labor migrants in Russia related to the registration and obtaining patents were resolved. Members of migrant families will be provided with pensions and medical services. The issue of providing pensions for Kyrgyz citizens working in Turkey was also resolved. An appropriate agreement was signed, which will soon be ratified and come into force.
Legislative amendments have been made to exempt new industrial enterprises in the country’s regions from property tax, income tax and land tax for a period from 5 to 10 years. The Government plans to introduce a three-year moratorium on inspections of new enterprises by the tax and supervisory authorities.
The President urged compatriots to participate in building new enterprises to process environmentally friendly agricultural products. The demand for such products is high in foreign markets.
"We need to adopt a package of laws supporting our compatriots," the President concluded.