In the absence of decent work and income-generating opportunities at home, millions of Nepalis turn to the global economy for employment. This has been a sad reality in Nepal, where millions of Nepalis are forced to separate from their families and sometimes work in extreme conditions to provide for their families.
According to figures recorded by the government, approximately four million Nepalis are working in over 100 countries which means an estimated 14% of the country’s total population is working abroad.
According to a report by Nepal Rastra Bank, Nepal recorded Rs 1007.31 billion remittance inflow in the fiscal year 2021-22. This amount which is more than a quarter of Nepal’s GDP has been instrumental in maintaining Nepal’s crucial foreign exchange reserves while helping reduce Nepal’s poverty rate.
Remittance has a reciprocal relationship with development in low-income and middle-income developing countries. Despite their contribution, migrant workers of Nepal fail to receive the dignity they rightfully deserve.
Their interests and rights have been overlooked by the state which in many ways has allowed other stakeholders such as agents, manpower companies, and even host companies to blatantly exploit the workers. In many instances, manpower companies have been found charging exorbitant amount as fees towards securing employment abroad. Similarly, despite the Nepal government mandating “Free Visa, Free Tickets” for migrant workers, workers almost always end up paying for their flights and visas.
Differential treatment begins from the airport itself. According to Ashok Adhikari, a staffer at the coffee shop at Tribhuvan International Airport, treatment of those travelling on a work-permit as migrant workers is almost always visibly different to those travelling to other destinations, or on visitor visas, reducing the dignity of a migrant worker.
For female migrant workers, this is a very familiar ordeal. Already stigmatized for disrupting the social fabric by leaving families behind, airport authorities are always seen harassing female migrant workers in the pretext of protecting their interests. Sukmaya Tamang, who is currently looking to return abroad, remembers the ordeal she was faced with by airport authorities when departing Nepal.
Similarly, workers aren’t provided contracts in Nepali language and at many times aren’t aware of the agreement they are entering into. Hence, a majority of the workers travelling abroad report violations that are indicative of forced labor, debt bondage, delays and non-payment of wages, passport retention, and threats and harassment.
According to economist Keshav Acharya, “Instead of exporting goods, Nepal exports human resources to other countries!” However, the government fails to provide any assistance to migrant workers.
Even during the COVID-19 pandemic, instead of acting immediately to bring its citizens home safely, Nepal government closed its borders and provided zero measures to ensure the protection of Nepalis abroad.
After being denied the right to return home owing to closed borders, only those who could afford chartered flights with tickets priced up to five times higher than the average rates were able to return to Nepal. Meanwhile, other migrant workers who lost their employment status were left to fend for themselves.
Remittance has been creating a positive effect in Nepal’s economy through various channels such as savings, investment, foreign reserve and income distribution. Meanwhile, the Nepali government places little to no value on their labor. The bilateral labor agreement is not followed; employers regularly seize the passports of migrant workers, and sometimes also reduce or withhold their wages.
If working in construction sites without safety measures and overtime without extra pay weren’t; degrading enough, migrant workers also have to live in tiny and overcrowded dormitories.
Despite numerous news and media reports highlighting the plight of migrant workers, the government of Nepal has not been able to safeguard the interests of the workers which has allowed migrant workers to be subjected to various forms of discrimination.