November 20, 2023

Erkinbek Kamalov

Kyrgyzstan's Shift: From Sending Migrants Abroad to Attracting Foreign Labor


In the midst of global economic transformations, Kyrgyzstan, traditionally recognized as a country sending migrants abroad, is undergoing a notable shift. The nation faces a critical challenge in its sewing industry—a surge in demand for Kyrgyz products has led to a shortage of skilled workers. In response, the Kyrgyz government is turning to a solution that contrasts with its historical role: attracting foreign labor. This article explores the unfolding scenario, examining the government's plans, initiatives, and the dynamics surrounding the move to address the pressing workforce shortage in the country's light industry.

Government Initiatives

There are not enough workers in the sewing industry in Kyrgyzstan. The government wants to solve the personnel problem at the expense of foreign labor. This was announced by Kyrgyz Deputy Minister of Economy Ainura Usenbekova within the framework of the CIS Industry Council held in Bishkek, in September of 2023.

Usenbekova spoke about the plans and activities, the implementation of which is aimed at the development of the domestic light industry. She noted the increased demand for Kyrgyz sewing products due to global transformations. However, this situation leads to personnel problems, there are not enough junior and middle-level workers in the industry.
It is added that in order to solve this problem, at the request of producers, the Ministry of Labor is preparing a document on increasing the quota for attracting and using foreign labor from Uzbekistan, Pakistan, and Bangladesh.

The Ministry of Labor of Kyrgyzstan plans to approve 25,000 quotas for the attraction and utilization of foreign labor in 2024, Economist.kg reports, citing the head of the ministry's migration department, Jypara Mambetova.
Increased demand for Kyrgyz sewing products has led to workforce shortages, Mambetova stated. In response to this, the Ministry of Labor is preparing a document to increase the quota for the attraction and utilization of foreign labor at the request of producers.

Mambetova emphasized that this year, 16.6 thousand quotas were considered. And next year, we plan to increase the number of quotas to 25,000. The country's population cannot fully supply the labor force for the light industry. Therefore, we are forced to attract labor from outside. Earlier, the Deputy Minister of Economy of Kyrgyzstan, Ainura Usenbekova, mentioned that workers from Uzbekistan, Pakistan, and Bangladesh would be recruited for the country's textile industry.

Currently, there are 60,000 vacancies in Kyrgyzstan. The construction of the China-Kyrgyzstan-Uzbekistan railway will start in 2024, 10,000 to 30,000 new jobs will be created under the project, and workers are also needed for the construction of the Kambar-Ata Hydro Power Plant.

Global Context and Industry Dynamics

At the same time, Kyrgyz migrants are working in South Korea, Japan, Germany, and a number of other European countries. Migration is a big process in the world. Developed countries have also gone through this process. This is a natural phenomenon. It will be useful if citizens go abroad to work, gain experience, return to the country, and spread what they have learned here. This is a natural process.

According to the Kyrgyz Ministry of Labor, in deed, shortage of workers in Kyrgyzstan is problematic. There is a shortage of workers in Kyrgyzstan. Kyrgyz enterprises and factories are in need of qualified workers, but people go there reluctantly, as they are oriented to the fact that after finishing school they must immediately leave the country, to migrate to other countries with more developed job markets. The head of the department noted that the ministry is trying to provide assistance to enterprises so that they do not have vacant jobs, and Kyrgyz people do not leave for work. The Ministry concluded an agreement with 99 educational institutions, 71 of which are schools. They train young people in professions that are in demand in the country's labor market.

Kudaibergen Bazarbaev added that last year it was possible to reduce the number of unemployed in the country by 5 percent. According to him, 2 thousand 900 Kyrgyz citizens concluded a social contract with the state, received 100 thousand soms each and opened a profitable financial business. The service employs about 16 thousand people. In total, about 23,000 citizens were employed by the Ministry of Labor, 15,000 were directed to paid public works, and 7,500 people received professional training for professions in demand on the labor market.

As mentioned before, a shortage of labor is especially, noticed in the so-called light industry. Rosa, a Kyrgyz entrepreneur, says that the average salary has increased to 80,000 KGS (around 900 USD) due to the lack of tailors. The average salary of tailors has increased to 80-100 000 KGS. Now there are tailors who earn up to 150 000 KGS. But most of the young people do not want to sit and work for 8-10 hours. They want to migrate after finishing school. It is better to learn sewing and work here. Now we have trained the women in the village ourselves, asked them to "sit at home and sew" and placed orders. But she is also in a lot of trouble. The quality is not what we want, and it ends up being broken. There is no way, we get a quota of 20 professionally trained sewing workers from Bangladesh. They are expecting that those professionals will arrive in Kyrgyzstan soon. The local sewing company agreed to pay a fixed salary of 400-500 USD per month and their breakfast and accommodation will be free. Local businessmen said that if our local people don’t work then they have no other option but to bring them from outside.

According to the Kyrgyz Ministry of Labor, Migration and Social Security on August 7 of this year, there were 12,465 job vacancies in Kyrgyzstan. Among them, there is a strong demand for working professionals in the construction and sewing industry.

This year, 16,600 quotas were allocated for foreign citizens to work in Kyrgyzstan. Labor quotas are often requested by locally based Kyrgyz companies cooperating with foreign markets or companies. About 330,000 foreign citizens were registered since the beginning of 2023. This is about 33,000 people more than 2022. According to the Deputy Minister of Digital Development Jazgul Kiyizbaeva, most of the foreign citizens who are registered for 60 days are migrants, students, and tourists. According to Kiyizbaeva, more than 220,000 of the 297,000 foreign citizens registered last year were citizens of Uzbekistan. Most of them came to work in construction as well as, the sewing industry.


It should be noted that foreign workers can also provide alternative solutions for those government-controlled industries. For instance, in the past, in 2020, the Uzbek gas company. As the Daily Star of Bangladesh newspaper informed, the Uzbek company named Enter Engineering had brought hundreds of workers from Bangladesh to Uzbekistan on a special charter flight. It was due to the fact that about a thousand local Uzbek workers who previously worked at Enter Engineering held protest actions, protesting that they were not paid on time. Though it is a bit different case, it still shows that another Central Asian country is already having labor migrants from South Asia.

Thus, Kyrgyzstan, traditionally known for sending migrants abroad, is now facing a pressing issue – a significant shortage of workers in its sewing industry will soon welcome labor migrants from Bangladesh.

Erkinbek Kamalov