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

13.2. Issues of Internal and External Migration in Post-Soviet Central Asia
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Lessons learnt by Central Asia from migration in Central and Eastern Europe

Sardor Usmanov (Institute of Political Sciences of Toulouse, France)


The reforms in Central and Eastern Europe (CEE) in the post-communist period have led to an increased volume and to a changed pattern of labour migration. During the 1990s Central and Eastern Europe as a whole has been characterized by several major types of migration, which have been widespread and numerically very important. These are ethnically based migrations; transit migration by people from within and beyond the region, most of whom seek to move to Western Europe; migration by those seeking protection; and the substantial movements that have occurred between the successor states of the USSR.

Within this overall typology, a set of geographically more selective flows has been identified by Okolski (1998)(1):

The phenomenon of migration led either to an increase or a decrease of the demographic potential of CEE countries. Croatia, and Romania experienced a decrease in population during the 1990s, having a net loss of people through both natural change and migration. Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, and Hungary survived a population decrease, with a net loss through natural change, which exceeded a gain through migration.

On the demographic map of Europe such countries, as Romania, the countries of ex-Yugoslavia show a very high migration potential, both permanent and temporary. One of the the motivations is a decline in living standards in recent years and the trauma of ethnic tensions. In the so-called Visegrad group of the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary and Poland there prevails a considerable tendency for short-term,short-distance labour migration. These actors are attracted mostly by higher wages in Western Europe. Finally, Bulgaria, Slovenia and Belarus represent a low migration potential. This potential may be low not only in such countries as Slovenia (among the most prosperous of the post-communist countries), but also in Bulgaria and Belarus (among the least prosperous).

In the migration lexicon these short-term movements bear the name of "incomplete migration". The participants of this short, cross-border migration make frequent, short-duration trips abroad to earn a living, at the same time maintaining a steady residence and household links in their country of origin. The specificities of this sort of immigration comprises a "loose" and flexible social status in the country of origin; and irregularities of stay or work in the country of destination.

According to a July 2006 report by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), in 2004 more Romanians (196,000) than any other nationality migrated to OECD countries. It says that the majority of the movements for temporary work are go into the Czech Republic, Slovakia from Ukraine, Moldova, Romania, etc.

It is reported that the OECD is likely to need more workers to migrate there in the future. That is because populations in rich countries are ageing, while interest in some occupations, such as construction, is falling.

With regard to the ageing population of the Czech Republic, due to low fertility and rising life-expectancy rates, the government believes that immigrants will help to solve the need for more workers and is actively trying to recruit a skilled, foreign labour force.

Different surveys made at different times show that few people in Central and Eastern Europe wish to emigrate permanently and if so, they prefer mostly to go to the "New World" (USA, Canada, Australia, New Zealand).

The most popular form of regional migration is short-term labour migration with such main donors, as Croatia, ex-Yugoslavia, the Czech and Slovak Republics. This category includes cross-border commuting, seasonal and casual work. These countries have been rich in the "traditions of migration" for a long time.

Relatively high number of inhabitants of ex-Yugoslavia would like to undertake long-term temporary labour migration, for longer periods, and as "guest workers" for a few years.

Poland, Hungary and the Czech and Slovak Republics make up a special category. Previously these four states had been identified as Central European "buffer zone" in terms of migration: they both sent migrants into Western Europe and received migrants from further East. With its accession in 2004, the Czech Republic became an interior country of the EU, rather than its previous status as a buffer zone that directly bordered the EU.

Poland, Hungary and the Czech and Slovak Republics have been crucially affected by the opening of borders to the European Union. There has not only been migration from these countries, but also into these countries; the former has declined and the latter has increased in the last ten years(2).

Scholars and policy-makers in the 1970s came to the conclusion that states are able to control trans-national migration only to a limited extent with their traditional national policy instruments.

Scandinavian countries also have a relatively high degree of so-called "Euro self-containment", admitting certain immigration mainly from the former Yugoslavia, with only small proportions of the flows from Central and Eastern Europe.

Germany’s immigration is strongly European, and along with Austria and Finland receives a high proportion of its immigrants from Central and Eastern Europe. But in the post-1989 period the German and Austrian authorities attempted to control increasing temporary labour migration from Central Europe through imposing quotas or agreements for a certain quantity of workers to come legally on a temporary basis.


New realities with the EU accession

Today the European Union (EU) immigration policies are characterized by a competition between two partly conflicting policy frames: the realist frame of internal security, which emphasizes the need to tighten up territorial borders and to fight illegal immigration, and the liberal frame of humanitarianism, which incorporates the human rights-based notions of freedom of movement and refugee protection(3).

The enlargement of the European Union on May 1, 2004 accorded nationals of the 10 new Member States the right to move relatively freely on the whole EU territory.

All the countries of the original EU states, except for Sweden, introduced employment and welfare access restrictions towards citizens of eight of the new Member States.

Germany and Austria - which for historical and geographic reasons may be most significantly affected by the enlargement - will be able to restrict access to their labour markets to a greater degree than the rest of the EU-15, especially with regard to self-employment, and particularly in the construction sector(4).

Before the accession of the countries of the region in 2004, Germany and Austria made it clear they did not want accession-state nationals to "flood" their labour markets. In Austria all new immigrants from non-EU third countries are required to attend "integration courses" consisting mainly of language instruction and an introduction to fundamental legal, historical, and political aspects of Austria. Regional and linguistic closeness play a role in the decision to migrate as do information on the destination country and assistance to accommodate there by experienced migrants and other mediators(5).

In November 2004, the EU adopted the "Hague Programme" focusing upon the development of EU justice and home affairs policy for the following 5 years. It stipulates that by 2010, there should be a common immigration and asylum policy executed by a single EU institution.

In May 2009, the "Old Europe" intends to completely open its labour markets. Member States will be allowed to maintain restrictions only if they can prove serious or considerable threats or disturbances in domestic labour markets. In May 2011 all Member States will have to allow the citizens of Europe of Twenty Five to move, work and reside in their countries.

Today the states of the region are obliged to take these processes under their effective control in order to meet European Union conditions of minority protection, border security and migration. The EU enlargement eastwards affects international migration, requiring an alignment of the migration legislation and migration policies of Central and Eastern European countries with EU practice.

At present Hungary is engaged in repatriating ethnic Hungarians from the neighbouring countries, in particular from Romania. After the collapse of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and the establishment of Greater Romania in 1918-1919, about 1.6 million ethnic Hungarians made up the largest minority group of the new multi-national state. Today, about three million ethnic Hungarians live in nearby countries. Eighty percent of those who entered in 1989-1990 were Romanian citizens, mostly of Hungarian ancestry. In the following years their proportion declined, reaching less than 40 percent between 1994-2002.

Budapest granted them special access rights to its education system and labour markets. But in view of Romania’s accession in 2007 in a second round, Hungary is forced to impose a strict border regime for the current intermediary period.

Although Hungary as well as Poland take an interest in maintaining special access to their countries for the population from neighbouring states they had to strengthen the Schengen border to the East.

In the wake of the disintegration of Czechoslovakia, the Czech Republic has maintained good relations with Slovakia whose citizens constitute the biggest part of its labour immigrants. It should be noted that an important migratory phenomenon – the mutual movement of people between the Czech Republic and Slovakia – did not become international until 1993 when the two countries separated and became independent(6).

Until recently, Slovaks, due to a shared history, had specific migration privileges in the Czech Republic. For example, Slovaks did not need work permits. It was enough for them to register their jobs. Since the Czech Republic and Slovakia joined the EU in 2004, Slovaks have had the same rights as other European Union citizens to live and work in the country.

In the new period, the economic recovery of the Czech Republic to a certain extent took place due to the cheap workforce in the construction sector and the service industry coming from Ukraine(7).

Sometimes Hungary and the Czech Republic are called countries of labour immigration from poorer regions of Eastern European and Central Asian countries. In the group of all EU accession countries, the Czech Republic was the first one to introduce visa requirements for its Eastern neighbours of the enlarged EU.

This republic met security concerns with regard to transit migrants, at the same time disregarding the need for protection of both immigrant workers and the Czech circular migrant workers.


The recent migration tendencies in Central and Eastern European countries

Between 2000 and 2004, most new EU Member States in Central Europe and several countries in Southern Europe experienced a natural population decline. In 2005, Western and Central Europe still experienced a population increase, as a whole. Immigration gave impulses to population growth in 2005 in the Czech Republic, Slovenia, and Slovakia. In Hungary, the recent population decline would have been much larger without a positive migration balance.

In 2005 all the 10 new EU Member States, along with all countries of Western Europe, had a positive migration balance, i.e. more people have entered than left the country. Among the new EU Member States and accession countries in Central Europe, the Czech Republic experienced the largest net migration gain.

If Slovakia, Slovenia and Croatia still have had more emigration than immigration in the early 1990s, over the last decade they have become immigration countries.

Demographic stagnation best describes Europe's native populations. But the immigration was the main driving force for the population increase of more than 2.0 million people in Europe between January 2005 and January 2006(8).

As a conclusion it should be remarked that that as a whole it is an uncontestable reality that m ost European countries are experiencing increased immigration. Immigrants there are contributing to population growth and helping to meet labour shortages, thereby augmenting growth and competitiveness.

Migration policies need to take into account not only the commonalities but also the differences among European labour markets, differences that have intensified with successive waves of EU enlargement(9).

In light of increasing European integration and the recent and future enlargement to the east, policies concerning the integration of migrants have already become a basic component of the EU policy agenda.

© Sardor Usmanov (Institute of Political Sciences of Toulouse, France)


(1) See Salt J. Current Trends in International Migration in Europe // CDMG (2001) 33, Publication of the Council of Europe, 2001.

(2) Wallace C. Opening and closing borders: migration and mobility in East-Central Europe // Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies, 2002 Volume 28, Number 4, p. 603-625.

(3) Lavenex S. Migration and the EU's new eastern border: between realism and liberalism // Journal of European Public Policy, 2001 Volume 8, Number 1 p. 24 – 42.

(4) Van Selm J., Tsolakis E. EU Enlargement and the Limits of Freedom // Publication of the Migration Policy Institute, May 1, 2004, online available:

(5) Patzwaldt K. Labour Migration in Eastern Europe and Central Asia: Current Issues and Next Political Steps // UNESCO Series of Country Reports on the Ratification of the UN Convention on Migrants, SHS/2004/MC/3. 1 June 2004.

(6) See Dusan D. Migration trends in Selected EU Applicant countries. International Organization for Migration, Vienna, 2004.

(7) The Ukrainians make up the biggest proportion of migrant workers in every East European country, except for Hungary. Most of them prefer short-term labour migration.

(8) See EUROSTAT, Chronos Database.

(9) See Katseli L. Immigrants and EU Labor Markets // OECD Development Centre, December 1, 2004, online available

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

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