Alisher Umirdinov and Khasanboy Rakhimberganov

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  1. Introduction 

Uzbekistan is desperate to export its potential overseas, and one of those is the country’s excess workforce. With almost 35.5 million population, Uzbekistan is the most populated state in Central Asia, and one pillar of its economic diplomacy is export promotion and cultivation of new overseas markets. Out of the 35.5 million population, 19.5 million is a ready workforce. The main destinations for Uzbek migrant workers are Russia, Kazakhstan, Turkey, South Korea, and UEA.  As a top destination for outbound migrant labor, Russia has 1.8 million workers from Uzbekistan. Nevertheless, due to conflict with Ukraine, the Russian economy’s future looks blurry, which naturally pushes the Uzbek government to look beyond Russia and diversify the destinations for its labor market.

 Then one of the fastest ways to overcome this issue for Uzbek authorities is to go global. This is why the Uzbek Ministry of Employment and Labor Relations (Labor Ministry) is looking overseas in search of an attractive market for the excess workforce capacity of the country. This blog post explores how the Uzbek side is trying to access the Japanese labor market and how both countries are legally paving the way for Uzbek migrants in Japan at both private and government levels. 

    We will first look at the labor migration policy of Uzbekistan. The 3rd section summarizes the legal framework of Uzbek-Japanese labor relations, while 4th section briefly discusses the mechanism of sending and accepting workers from Uzbekistan to Japan. In the final section, we outline some challenges for the near future.  

  1. Labor migration policy of Uzbekistan

   Under the Mirziyoyev government, Uzbek labor migration policy has drastically changed. While the previous government neglected and even openly despised labor migrants, the new government took a positive approach and started to protect their rights. In this regard, to protect the labor rights of migrants and to identify, protect and socially rehabilitate victims of human trafficking, on July 5, 2018, Presidential Decree No. 3839 was adopted. In other words, the state started to show active support for health insurance and offering air tickets, and is providing free training courses, which will be given to all labor agencies, whether they are private or public. 

  Second, the Agency for External Labor Migration under the Labor Ministry (Migration Agency) started to open its representative offices in May 2018 in Moscow, Russian Federation, and Gwangju, South Korea. In the future, it is planned to open representative offices in the cities with the largest concentration of labor migrants from Uzbekistan. Also, the government has established several positions of attaché for labor migration at overseas consulates. Such policies are aimed at improving Uzbek migrant workers’ conditions overseas.

Third, the Uzbek government also tried to cement labor relations via international treaties and the so-called Memorandum of Understanding (MoU). Uzbekistan has already concluded a deal with Russia on labor migration. South Korea also agreed to sign into MoU with Uzbekistan in early 2016.

Finally, Uzbekistan is eager to re-educate its citizens about potential job markets. In 2018 the Government started establishing the so-called “Welcome to Work” mono-centers in Tashkent and regions. Now the government operates 18 such mono-centers where citizens may take training courses in various fields such as construction, IT, digital technologies, as well as language courses. These centers conduct courses for duration of one to four months to train the unemployed population in areas with high demand. As a result, these mono-centers create opportunities for unemployed people to obtain a professional diploma within one or up to six months and gain work skills in the areas with high demand.

  • The legal framework of Uzbek-Japanese labor relations 

Nonetheless, the Japanese market was still unutilized for Uzbek migrant workers. During the state visit of President Mirziyoyev in December 2019, both countries discussed the export of Uzbek labor forces to Japan. However, Covid-pandemics postponed this and in 2022 effort started again. Between October 16-19, 2022, Uzbek Minister of Employment visited Japan, held seminars in Tokyo, Osaka, and Nagoya, as well as several bilateral meetings with Japanese government officials.

As a first important step forward, on January 15, 2019, both sides signed a memorandum of cooperation relating to technical intern training (TIT Memorandum). The purpose of this Memorandum is to transfer technical skills from Japan to Uzbekistan in an appropriate and smooth manner through the Technical Training Program and by establishing a commitment between both ministries to send and receive technical trainees and thereby promote international cooperation. By the end of that year, two parties also signed onto the Memorandum of Cooperation on a Basic Framework for Information Partnership for Proper Operation of the System pertaining to Foreign Human Resources with the Status of Residence of “Specified Skilled Worker” . The purpose of latter Memorandum is to protect certain skilled workers by smoothly and properly promoting of sending to and receiving in Japan, by establishing a basic framework for information partnership. The Ministries and agencies of both countries will promptly exchange necessary and useful information in order to ensure the smooth and proper sending, receiving, as well as the residence in Japan of those qualified workers and to solve problems related to sending, receiving, and them residing in Japan.

Compare to the latter, the former TIT Memorandum covers many important aspects. Therefore, from now we will focus on discussing its main futures. Interestingly enough, both sides refrained to label these Memorandums are not international treaties. Actually, there has been the consistent practice of Japan with other MoU partners on the same issue. The ministries of the two countries will consult on the implementation of activities under the Memorandum and will resolve such issues in amicable and close cooperation, through diplomatic channels with the relevant ministries and agencies of each signatory state.  

      There are several responsibilities of both governments’ commitments that they have to follow in order to insure the functionality of the Memorandum. The Parties also added the so-called “Approving Standards for Sending Organizations” into the TIT Memorandum. The Japanese side’s main commitments include: 

  1. To accept only those technical intern trainees of Uzbekistan who are sent by the so-called ‘Approved Sending Organizations’. However, the Japanese side may not accept technical intern trainees from Uzbekistan in case a technical intern training plan related to the technical intern trainee is not approved, even if they are sent from Approved Sending Organizations;
  2. To make such information publicly available when Japan receives from Uzbekistan the information on the revocation of approval of Approved Sending Organizations;
  3. To provide necessary information when Japan receives inquiries from Uzbekistan pertaining to issues such as the status of implementation of the Technical Intern Training Program, any revisions of the Program, or any additions of the occupations covered by the Program;

The commitments required from Uzbekistan, on the other side, are rather wide:

  1. To examine whether or not Sending Organizations meet Approving Standards and to give approvals when Sending Organizations are considered to meet Approving Standards;
  2. To provide necessary guidance and supervision, and then report the results to Japan when Uzbekistan is informed by Japan that an Approved Sending Organization seems to have exercised activities inconsistent with approving standards or other improper activities, to conduct investigations over the approved sending organization in question;
  3. To provide guidance to Approved Sending Organizations in Uzbekistan in order to select and send technical intern trainees in an appropriate manner, to revoke an approval when Uzbekistan considers that an Approved Sending Organization no longer meets Approving Standards, and to notify the results to Japan;
  4. To provide the technical intern trainees who returned to Uzbekistan after completing the technical intern training with the necessary support, such as finding occupations for them to appropriately utilize the acquired technical skills;
  5. To ensure that Approved Sending Organizations will not infringe trainees’ human rights.
  • Mechanism of sending and accepting workers from Uzbekistan to Japan

The Labor Ministry of Uzbekistan is responsible for technical training and the “Specified Skilled Worker” system. As of November 2022, seven organizations have been accredited as sending organizations for technical intern training, six private sending organizations, and one government entity. This number is far less than compared to 65 entities two years ago. It seems that their qualification has been temporarily suspended. The state entity is the Migration Agency under the Labor Ministry. Japan’s entities can enter into a contract with both of them. 

The accepting organization becomes an employment agency by obtaining a license as a management organization. After that, this kind of organization can enter into a business partnership agreement with the sending organization, providing job placement services and concluding an employment contract. After that, the general flow of the technical internship program is to obtain a certificate of eligibility and proceed to the issuance of a visa to enter Japan.

In the case of using a sending organization to bring a specific skilled worker to Japan, a contract with the private sending organization or with the Migration Agency shall be concluded. Once a candidate has been selected, and an employment contract has been signed, an application for a certificate of eligibility for resident status will be issued by the Regional Immigration Bureau. 

  • Challenges for the future

Currently, around 150 technical interns from Uzbekistan are working in Japan. Although this number is quite small in comparison with countries like Vietnam, it will be rising soon. Japan’s experience with workers from ASEAN countries gives concrete clues on what will happen once the number of technical intern trainees from Uzbekistan increases. The governments of these two countries are required to efficiently work not only on technical intern trainees’ disappearances and deportations of those staying illegally, but they will also need to seriously fight against human rights abuses by sending organizations in Uzbekistan as well as accepting entities in Japan. Last but not least, whether the Migration Agency can fairly play the role of a regulator or the part of an equal player in the process is the question that still needs an answer. And these are just a few of many questions labor law experts and international law researchers should be focusing on in the upcoming years.  

Cite as: Alisher Umirdinov and Khasanboy Rakhimberganov, “Uzbek Ministry of Labor Goes Global”, Uzbekistan Law Blog, 18.11.2022.