Forcing aspiring migrant workers to come to Kathmandu for all paperwork is unkind
Article first posted in the Kathmandu Post on 3 October 2017
It was not long ago that one saw an endless queue of people from all over Nepal standing in front of the Department of Passport in Kathmandu.
The queue has become shorter, but the lines are still there at the Department of Foreign Employment and the Foreign Employment Promotion Board too.
Foreign employment has become the most popular choice to earn a living for many Nepalis today, and the centralised system of labour migration has added to the difficulties potential migrants face even before departure.
All hopefuls have to come to Kathmandu for everything, from obtaining a labour permit to attending orientation.
In the past, it was even more difficult because they had to make a trip to the Capital to get their passports too.
Moreover, out of the 205 medical centres approved by the Ministry of Health to provide medical check-up services to migrant workers, 167 are in Kathmandu.
Besides the hassle of travelling to the Capital, the journey costs a lot of money. And having arrived in Kathmandu, aspiring migrants have to make sure they have enough money to live here indefinitely to get their paperwork done because of the lethargic service.
According to the Nepal Association of Foreign Employment Agencies (NAFEA), there are around 900 manpower agencies in Nepal.
An understaffed Department of Foreign Employment has to struggle to keep a watch on them.
Under these circumstances, one cannot help but question the ability of the government to properly monitor the foreign employment business.
It has been well proven by past experiences that such a centralised and inadequate governance system in the labour migration sector has directly contributed to making manpower agencies and brokers stronger.
As a result, they are able to exploit aspiring migrant workers with little or no fear.
And it would be wrong to assume that this centralised system of labour migration is a problem for aspiring labour migrants only, as returnee migrants and their families are also major victims.
Many labour migrants end up being disabled due to workplace accidents in the country of destination and some even lose their lives.
Though the government has made an effort to provide a considerable amount of compensation in addition to the existing facility of insurance, the compulsion of having to travel to the Capital to obtain these benefits has made it costly and complicated for the victim’s family, which adds to the pain of having lost a member.
With the country currently going through a structural change, this is an excellent opportunity for the government to end this narcissistic and centralised mechanism in the foreign employment system.
The federal structure of the country provides a great way to decentralise the foreign labour migration process.
The fact that aspiring migrants come from every corner of the country makes it not only justifiable but also practical to have the Department of Foreign Employment open offices in each state to provide easier access to services.
The benefit of decentralising the foreign labour migration process is not limited to making it convenient for aspiring migrants, it also ensures more efficient and thorough dissemination of information about the subject matter and reduces cases of misinformation and deception.
This makes foreign employment and migration safer and more reliable. And it would not be an exaggeration to say that a well-informed migrant worker is safer than an ill-informed one.
Expanding the foreign labour migration governance to the new political structure of decentralised government can also be an opportunity to generate skilled and semi-skilled human resources in the country.
Despite the provision of technical and vocational training, only a limited number of skilled and semi-skilled workers are generated annually since these opportunities are not accessible to a wider mass.
Instead of bringing people to the opportunity, the new structure will enable opportunities to be taken to the people, which will increase the chances of generating more skilled and semi-skilled manpower.
In addition to the lag in generating skilled manpower, the government always seems to be struggling to devise local development plans as there is no reliable data about the absentee population.
By keeping proper records of the absentee population at the local level, an effective development plan can be implemented as it will not be affected by fluctuations in the population.
As long as the country has to struggle to generate enough job opportunities, it is likely that foreign employment will remain a priority choice to earn one’s living.
The decentralisation of foreign employment is not only desirable to provide services to aspiring migrants at lower cost and in less time, but also to generate skilled manpower for the country.
It can also be seen as an opportunity for the creation of employment at the regional level which ultimately contributes to the greater goal of productive, safe and reliable foreign labour migration.
We cannot dismiss the challenges of decentralising a decades-old foreign employment system, but it is essential to look at the bigger picture to extract as much benefit from the existing situation by utilising the opportunities to the maximum.
The decentralisation of foreign labour migration will not only make it easier for the state to extract greater advantages from the phenomena, but also make the lives of thousands of aspiring, existing and returnee migrants and their families much easier and safer.
– Bhattarai and Adhikari are associated with a think-tank called the Centre for Social Change