Trans Internet-Zeitschrift für Kulturwissenschaften 16. Nr. Juni 2006

13.2. Issues of Internal and External Migration in Post-Soviet Central Asia
Herausgeberin | Editor | Éditeur: Dinora Azimova (Tashkent, Uzbekistan)

Dokumentation | Documentation | Documentation

Uzbek student migration towards EU countries. The case of students in France and the UK

Postmodernity and change of categorisation

Farhod Alimuhamedov (University Paris IX Dauphine, France)


The analysis of Uzbek students in foreign countries through the angle of migration can be neglected because of the student’s temporary status, which usually does not exceed a few years. Moreover, foreign students have no determined place among the immigrant population, on the basis of their rights, conditions and migration projects. Actually, many terms have changed their meaning and contents. A time measure was decisive to express these terms in an appropriate way some decades ago; but studentship is not the same anymore nowadays.


Migration processes concerning Uzbekistan

Uzbekistan has been considered as a country of immigration for many centuries. Before the second half of the XIX century relations with the South prevailed. After being annexed to the Russian Empire, the country started receiving immigrants from the North, especially during World War II and after the Tashkent earthquake in 1966.

Post soviet Uzbekistan on the contrary has become a country of emigration. From the last years of the USSR minority groups like Crimean Tatars and Meskheti Turks left the country following conflict with local ethnic groups. The flow of other minorities like Russians, Ukrainians, Jews and Germans has also become significant.

From 1995-1996 the level of repatriation of different ethnic groups decreased, while Uzbekistan increasingly faced another type of emigration, that of so-called "working migrants".

In 1998-2000 the level of emigration was 10 times higher than the level of immigration, and the migration size was about 148,1 thousand(1).

Uzbekistan has a negative saldo with almost all neighbouring countries with exception of Tadjikistan. The main receiving countries of Uzbek labour force are Russia (about 70% of total migrants) and Kazakhstan (12-13%)(2).

The reasons for this migration are mainly the high level of unemployment. (There are about 220-230 thousand newcomers to the labour market annually(3)). The labour market structure has changed and the number of those employed in the public sector has decreased: for example, the administrative reforms of 2004 have created about 40 thousand unemployed.

However, the main problem of unemployment stems from the agrarian sector. A country, with about 60% of the population living in rural areas, will have problems in creating employment for all. The government tries to keep control on rural areas in order to avoid rapid social polarisation, although it is aware that the future of traditional farmers remains uncertain. Sayad has shown that the main migrant forces come from the agrarian sector(4).

Actually, we do not posses the exact numbers of Uzbek labour emigration. The non-official figures vary between 500 thousand to 2 million(5), which shows the poor level of researches on this topic and that the main labour migration is out of State control, since the majority of migrants do not have labour contracts. This implies that they often do not obtain jobs according to their specialization in the receiving countries. Contemporary Uzbek migration is therefore based on short-term projects, but it produces long-term consequences.


Motives of migration

If we take into consideration the reasons of migration we can distinguish three actors in the migration process: migrant group, sending country and receiving country. However, it is more interesting to look at the motives of migration based on the projects of each immigrant. If objective reasons oblige the jobseeker to choose migration as a way of survival, his motives define the country of destination, the type of job and the duration of the migration.

Classical approaches in defining migrant groups hardly suit the uzbek context. Uzbekistan is not a country with a low level of education; there is no parallel between Uzbek and African working migrants, because the quality of an Uzbek worker would be much higher due to his background. Thus, we cannot apply the same approach to different groups.

It is very important to look at the facts, which determine the need to depart in order to define the essence of immigration. Actually the majority of Uzbek migrants work for consumption, home investment and business investment, whereas more and more migrant groups work only to guarantee current consumption. This means that for several years Uzbekistan will receive an increasing direct investment from migrant workers that will have a growing effect on the socio-economic structure of the country.

However, it is impossible to count on long-term investment. If twenty years ago there were many countries that prohibited the exit from their territory (it was the case of USSR, China, etc), nowadays many prohibit entrance to their territory (USA, Europe, Canada, etc). If now Uzbek migrants work for their home country, they will be obliged to concentrate on their working countries, and that will diminish the rate of investment to the home country in two decades.

Migration is based on the formula of "migration-investment-migration": once migrants invest in their own country that will not decrease the homeland demand, but it will instead increase the demand of migration. Therefore, emigration becomes an inevitable process but it is possible to adjust it in order to use it more effectively.


Typology of migrant groups

Generally, research on migrant groups distinguishes people on the basis of their nationality. Many researchers focus on the social base of migrant or on their profession, since their aim is job seeking. Some other works focus on the geographic, ethnic, religious origin of migrants. For example, Lyudmila Maksakova has divided Uzbek migrants into two categories: regular and irregular. But the limits of contemporary research are based on an institutional point of view that ignores practical strategies and daily adaptations of migrants.

This paper proposes an approach based on time or age, which divides Uzbek migrants into young (under 30 years old) and older groups according to their different migration projects and values, because the two groups have been educated under regimes based on different ideologies.


Values of Post-Soviet Youth during Transition

According to general definition, youth is the age between 16-25(6). However, this category has changed during the last decades. Actually, the youth category is tied to a national context. If in Uzbekistan youth finishes at 23, in European countries it goes up to 30. Generally, marriage is the frontier between youth and maturity in Uzbek society, whereas in western countries maturity is based more on socio-economic independence.

Nowadays, the effects of education and employment determine the frontier between youth and adulthood as well as the reasons for youth migration.


The structure of education has changed in post-Soviet Uzbekistan by increasing inequality in access to education.(7) This results in inequality among young people as family income becomes a key factor in obtaining education. The government guarantees free basic education for everybody, but access to higher education becomes more difficult. Most youth still think that higher education is a guarantee for a better job(8).

In Uzbekistan (as in many CIS countries) the difficulties of transition period have had a negative influence on the quality of education. The weaker motivation of professors,(9) due to lower real income, has effected the quality and perception of education negatively.

Moreover, more pragmatic ides are increasing the demand for faculties like management, marketing, and business administration, whilst traditional sciences are less appreciated. "Young people now are more interested in the professional aspects of education than several years ago. They link education to future career opportunities and the situation in labour market"(10)


According to the statistics the level of unemployment is very low and equal to 1 per cent of the active population, whilst specialists consider that it is between 6 and 25 percents(11).

The Soviet system provided a planned employment policy, which offered, though without personal choice, the stability of a real income. Nowadays, the youth are aware of an instability that has never been the concern of older generations. They face a double problem: The first is unemployment, the second is underpaid work. Once young people add up both of them, they understand the difficulties which are going to confront them for several years.

Prestigious jobs are mostly linked to their "side" income(12), rather than the official salary and are highly competitive and based on "family ties".

The polarisation due to the market economy brought about the creation of an upper class and lower classes independently of the level of education or of the profession. More and more people work in the private sector and often in sectors not necessarily related to their educational background. Each class has its own strategy of employment. The upper class holds better jobs and has no aim of looking for opportunities in foreign countries. The middle class has the same level of education, but not the same level of employment. It has to choose between several options:

The lower class has less potential to be admitted to the public sector due to the level of education expected. Mainly, they have to work the in private sector. However, migration to neighbouring countries are also possible.


The problems of migration for studies: return or non-return?

The lack of adequate job offers for highly qualified workers in emerging economies is one of the reasons of migration towards developed countries where working conditions seem to be more attractive(13). Therefore, the more a country produces a highly qualified working force without planned workplaces the more it forces citizens to continue studying abroad.

Migration as education is an investment that helps one’s development through a better use of one’s potential. As for any investment the aim remains economic, which means increasing productivity with less activity(14).

Education is becoming non-productive(15) since more and more diplomas without any corresponding jobs means an irrational use of resources.

According to Lee, four main factors influence the decision to migrate: origin and destination, intermediate and personal factors(16). The important decisions during the processes of migration are taken at the intersection of the above factors. For example, a migrant may overvalue his own country of origin because of his background and youth.

However, many decisions are not completely rational because of the emotional changes during migration processes(17). For example, many return home not only because of patriotic feelings, but especially due to social security and future perspectives. Students graduating in the same faculties can choose different practices. Some are ready to remain in the home country although their jobs are underpaid and not according to their specialization, whereas others hesitate even to work under good conditions in a qualified job.

The fear of under-employment of students coming from emerging countries is in many cases related to the formation of an elite that is based more on social status than on competence. If "deserved promotion" seems less likely than "non-deserved appointment" this fact becomes one of the key elements of not returning(18). The experience of frustration after returning(19) is another key element that influences those who are still abroad.

According to Douieb, the key element of remaining in the host country is not only the job, but especially the successful socialization(20), which defines those who remain and those who leave. At the same time "socialization" in the host countries seems to be equivalent to "detribalisation"(21) in relation to the country of origin.

The factors that play a role in returning are usually not related to the country of origin, but to the host country. Aspects like social and cultural difference, discrimination(22), play a central role in the project of returning.


Receiving foreign students by countries : France and UK

Discussing the question of "foreign students" opens a polemic about the legitimacy of receiving students by the host countries and implies to the international migration of elites. The receiving policy can be considered as an aid in development to the sending country, or as "brain-drain"(23). The category of foreign students has not been studied deeply, but once the question wase asked, "foreign" became more important than "student"(24).

The UK and France have a long tradition of receiving foreign students. Both countries have high rates of foreign students. This presence was partly due to ideological aspects, because initially elite of emerging countries has followed higher education in more developed countries. Nowadays the nature of the "foreign student" has changed. It represents not only an "elite", but also the middle class and sometimes the lower class. Massive access to foreign countries has completely changed the perception of the "foreign student". Therefore, UK and France have developed different programmes in order to adjust their politics.

Neither France, nor UK are eager to diminish the quantity of foreign students; they are interested in accepting the most qualified, as the demand for skills is constantly increasing. Both countries in reality do have different policies at three levels: the local students, EU students and foreign students.

English universities have increased their tuitions fees in general, but for foreign students the amount is many times higher than that of locals. France in his turn increased the number of EU students through European mobility programmes (ERASMUS) and therefore decreased in percentage the number of traditional foreign students from the African continent.


Uzbeks students in London

Statistically, Uzbeks represent a small number in England. However, their presence increases in cities like London, Birmingham and Bournemouth. In London Uzbeks are dispersed in several parts of the city. There is no proper "Uzbek quarter" in the British capital, however in some areas their numbers seem to be increasing. Their living areas are necessarily linked to their work or study address. Sometimes the choice of the house has no advantage in financial, geographical means, but it is chosen for the closeness to their compatriots.

The majority of Uzbek Londoners live in semi-detached houses. Few of them live separately in small apartments or in rooms. Uzbeks in Britain are generally not individualistic and try to stay in their communities by sharing the rooms in a house, which offers several advantages. It has an area for leisure like a dining room where students usually share their evening meal, like they had done in Uzbekistan for years. It is also an area for receiving guests whereas in individual rooms there would not be such a space.

The expenses are shared among the inhabitants. As most of them come in at different times, according to their schedules, they usually have designated those who are in charge of the food and cleaning.

"I start working in the morning till the evening six days out of seven. I start my job at 10 and finish at 7 p.m. Honestly, I do not like this lifestyle. As I spend much time working, I have little time for myself. So our living like a family offers several advantages. For example, the one who comes earliest prepares the meal and washes the dishes. As the objective of everybody is to gain more money, we have to adapt to smaller living areas. Two or three persons share one room. If I would have more income, I would like to live in one room.

For the food we collect 10£ per week. If the vegetables are bought in big quantities, rice, meat, etc are bought every week.

Living together represents not only financial, but especially cultural means. We share the same background, and I think we can understand each other easily. Even though somebody would gain more money he will not leave his community. If we wants to stay aside, he would have done it before".

The majority of Uzbeks are enrolled in English Language Study courses, or sometimes Computer learning courses. Actually, their coming to the UK is possible only though this strategy. Many of them would like to follow graduate studies in the UK, but at an initial stage they are limited to language courses.

After the 10 new members of East European countries acceded to the EU, language courses in London have seen the number of their students falling rapidly. Emerging countries like Uzbekistan represents a possibility to continue their activity.

"Even here, everything is bought... Sometimes school directors accept students although they know very well that students will never come."

It is quite normal for Uzbek students to work and study. They have to work in order to study and study in order to work...

"The majority of students work aside, because life in London is extremely expensive. If in Uzbekistan someone works whilst studying that might be seen like something strange. Here, it is completely accepted, even the professors admit that."

At the moment, work is the most important, because in order to pursue their individual or family projects they have to get financial guarantees.

"Five or ten per cent of Uzbek students are really studying... The job is an obligation for us to survive, because we cannot get the aid of our parents. Moreover, our English develops whilst working..."

"However, I do not think that the majority of students do their studies well. Because the rhythm of life is high they cannot study properly."

Sometimes, they think that their venue has only financial opportunities. They think that studying is over, and being in London is the great opportunity to save some money to use it correctly on returning to their home country.

"Migration is a quite normal phenomenon nowadays. Because not only Uzbeks, but also other nations go abroad to make money. England has workers coming from different countries. The choice of these workers is not England, but its currency, which helps for immigrants to earn well in comparison to US dollars. That is why there is such an ethnic diversity... Socio-economic development of the country leads them to come here. English is very important here. Without speaking English it is difficult to find a normal job."

"Nobody works here 20 hours a week " [Normally students can work maximum 20 hours per week]

"If we work during "offs" we are paid 25 per cent in addition, and if we work week holidays we gain 50 per cent more."

"If we do not work here we would be losers. We have to work a minimum five days in order to cover our expenses".

Jobs are found through relations. The majority of students serve in restaurants and cafés. It is difficult to imagine their future in England with such jobs. Therefore, they consider that their life in the UK is limited by time and for other reasons. They hope to return to Uzbekistan once they achieve their goals. It is difficult to adapt to a poor situation when one third of them come from "intellectual" families.

The departure of students for their host countries is quite well organised. They know somebody before coming to England. The process of preparation is quite long, because of the investment needed. They are well prepared and their decision is rationally balanced. However, these decisions imply short-term projects, since the majority cannot envisage more than a three-year project.

However, it is difficult to speak about community formation in London for Uzbeks. The relationships are not always good, especially regional differences take on political aspects abroad. For example, the Tashkent-Samarkand rivalry remains strong enough and is exported from the home country. The inhabitants from Tashkent and from Samarkand form separate groups and housing even in the same areas.

"I don’t think that I will keep friendship with these people in Tashkent. We will say simply "hello" and that’s all"

In fact, living together is not a simply cultural proximity, but also a necessity. Group forming appears strong among newly arrived populations because of their need of each other. In the Uzbek case, those who arrive find financial and moral aid from their compatriots. The majority of them need especially information concerning administrative issues, such as annual residence permits.


Students in Paris

France offers different kinds of possibilities for foreign students. It is third among European countries concerning the number of foreign students. The country has a long tradition of receiving elites from emerging countries. Actually, France is becoming more and more a "passage country" for immigrants because of administrative difficulties.

The country offers several advantages for foreign students. For example, tuitions are relatively low in France, which make s the university degree accessible for the majority of students. Moreover, there is no difference in tuition payment between local and foreign students like in England. Students have specials fares in many spheres like transport, housing, etc.

At the same time it has several disadvantages. For example, housing for foreign students is the key question in Paris. It is not only based on the price, but especially on race and ethnicity which makes it extremely difficult for foreigners to get a proper housing. Paris offers 4000 student rooms, while the demand is for 100000 studying in the city so the students are obliged to look for housing in private houses.

Uzbek students in France study mainly in Paris, Toulouse, Bordeaux, Strasbourg, Lyon, and Grenoble. Many of them are the fellows of different foundations or of the French embassy. The background of students in France is somehow linked. Many of them know each other, because of the limited and small circle of French speaking students in Uzbekistan. For example, school 51 of Tashkent is well known for its preparation of French speaking students. However, there are also Uzbeks, who are initially English speaking, who come to France.

INALCO (institute of oriental studies), Paris Orsay, EHESS (School of Social Studies) in Paris and IEP de Toulouse have a long tradition of receiving Uzbek students.

In Paris, Uzbek students mainly enrolled in Master studies. The French embassy does not give visas for language studies. However, they welcome all Uzbek students’ graduate studies at Master’s level. The system of education at Masters level is quite different in France. It is not as centralized as in Uzbekistan, the timetable is more flexible and it is very easy to change the domain of study. Therefore, sometimes students change their speciality at Master’s level in order to be more flexible in finding jobs. For example, sometimes students with a Political Science background study Law or Sociology, or those who studied Pedagogy switch to Political Science or International Relations.

Generally, they perform well in their studies, due to the fact that they are among the best students of their home countries. Few of them fail exams and a few are the best in their faculties.

Very few students live in student dormitories. Those who initially come with a stipend usually get a room in a short time, but the others cannot even apply for rooms if they do not have a stipend. The majority of students live in studios or private rooms. It is impossible to think about renting houses in London, because they know very well that they would never be able to afford it. The majority of students had problems finding housing. Few students found good living conditions in Paris easily.

Students in France spend much more time to find jobs in comparison to those in London. Usually it takes months of searching. However, in Paris it is easier to find jobs than in other cities.

In general, male students work in hotels during nights or weekends. This job provides little money, but good working conditions for them. In return, the owners of hotels remain also satisfied, because few French nationals accept night shifts and also few of them speak several languages.

Female students are working in babysitting beside their studies. They also serve in restaurants, or do interpreting.

In fact, both male and female jobs are linked to the economic situation of the country. Tourism, which is well developed in France, provides an increasing demand for hotel receptionists, whereas the high rate of female work in France obliges almost all French middle families to recruit babysitters for several hours per week.

Students believe that they would have a true chanceof working in France or elsewhere due to their French diploma. In fact, qualified work perspectives are open in limited areas, where there is a lack of local professionals.

The strategy of the majority of students is fixed on long-term projects. They plan to achieve academic goals first, and then look for better jobs. They have to succeed in their studies in order to continue studying in France; if they fail they have to go back to their home country.

Uzbek students know their rights well and can adapt very well to administrative constraints.


The End of Unskilled Migration

Student migration is a process, which increases rapidly all over the world. It is the new form of "working" migration, because of the end of "working" migration that existed till 1980-s in Europe. In the Uzbek case, students are the main migrants in Western countries.

Middle class Uzbek students are the best candidates for migration. It is not correct to speak about elite migration anymore, because migration is less oriented towards professional growth and much more towards obtaining simple jobs. Actually, the Uzbek elite is not being educated abroad, but in the home country.

France and the UK are "second choice" countries for the majority of migrants. If the UK offers stable jobs and community aid, it also provides a lack of perspectives through "Language Study" programmes. France, however, has a more "closed" way of self-presentation that offers very limited perspectives with difficult, unstable jobs and the lack of community ties.

Nowadays European countries prefer qualified migration and "shopping" to unqualified labour migration. They are aware that they cannot satisfy migrants, but they also know there is more and more middle class, qualified labour ready to migrate all over the world.

The aim of EU is to establish better integration. Their previous experience with lower class labour migrants has shown a lack of integration and also a failure of all return programmes for migrants. The advantage of qualified migrants is that they are easily adaptable and ready to develop migration projects in multiple directions.





Tuition fee



Difference of tuition fee between overseas and local students

No difference

Overseas students pay higher tuition fees

Main cities

Paris, Toulouse

London, Bournemouth


Social Sciences

Language courses

Social background

Middle class

Middle class

Degree studies

Mainly MA studies

Mainly non-degree studies

Financing the studies

Fellowships and self-financing


Male/female parity

Almost equal

More male than female

Ethnic origin


Mainly Uzbek and Tajik

University of origin

UWED, University of World Languages


Study/Work parity

More study than work

More work than study

mutual aid



Housing types

Student dormitory, studios, rooms

House, apartments, studios, rooms


Hotels, babysitting

Restaurants, building

Main investment in home country

Housing, car (secondary consumption)

Housing, car (secondary consumption)

Willingness to stay






Contact groups


Mainly Turkish and Russian speaking

Permitted working hours/week



© Farhod Alimuhamedov (University Paris IX Dauphine, France)


(1) IOM report, p.62

(2) ibid , p.62

(3) ibid , p.62

(4) Sayad, La double absence

(5) ibid , p.64

(6) UNESCO, p.19

(7) ibid , p.34

(8) ibid , p.44

(9) ibid , p.41

(10) Tommasi , p.138

(11) UNESCO, p.46

(12) UNESCO, p.52

(13) Blaud, p.19

(14) Blaud , p.23

(15) ibid , p.24

(16) ibid , p.25

(17) ibid , p.27

(18) ibid , p.36

(19) ibid , p.38

(20) ibid , p.35

(21) ibid , p.43

(22) ibid , p.43

(23) Velpry, p.4

(24) ibid , p.10


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13.2. Issues of Internal and External Migration in Post-Soviet Central Asia

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For quotation purposes:
Farhod Alimuhamedov (University Paris IX Dauphine, France): Uzbek student migration towards EU countries. The case of students in France and the UK. In: TRANS. Internet-Zeitschrift für Kulturwissenschaften. No. 16/2005. WWW: ../../../index.htmtrans/16Nr/13_2/alimuhamedov16.htm

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