Future of 40,000 Nepalis at stake

Kathmandu, July 2

The Malaysian government’s recent move cracking down on illegal migrant workers may hit Nepali labourers in the Southeast Asian nation, which is among the most preferred labour destinations for Nepali outbound workers.

More than 100 Nepali undocumented workers have already been detained, along with illegal migrants from other nations, since the Malaysian government initiated the action on Friday night.

As Malaysia’s immigration department started detaining undocumented migrant workers, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs has asked the Nepali Embassy in Malaysia to keep communication lines open with officials of detention centres of the Malaysian government to send back detained Nepalis safely, according to Durga Bhandari, MoFA joint secretary.

Since the immigration department has started clamping down on recruitment companies who hire undocumented workers, it will be challenging for illegal migrant workers to work there. Though there is no factual database on how many Nepalis are working illegally in Malaysia, the Nepal Association of Foreign Employment Agencies has estimated that there could be 40,000 Nepalis working in Malaysia without valid permits.

“Earlier, recruitment companies in Malaysia used to easily hire workers whose work permits had expired and there were no obstacles for illegal workers to send money to their home countries,” Bimal Dhakal, president of NAFEA, told THT. “The number of undocumented Nepali migrants that may be sent back depends on how effectively the Malaysian department of immigration conducts its operation.”

According to NAFEA, fresh demand for workers from Malaysia has plummeted in recent years, as recruitment companies could easily hire undocumented migrant workers. “Though Nepalis are preferred in the Malaysian job market, demand creation is low because those overstaying their work visas were readily recruited,” Dhakal added.

Currently, around 500,000 Nepalis are working in Malaysia.

According to international media reports, the Malaysian government believes that there are around 600,000 undocumented migrant workers in the country. It had launched a scheme in February whereby all foreign workers could get themselves registered with the government. However, only 150,000 people registered themselves as foreign workers.

The rising number of illegal foreign workers is a big challenge for the Malaysian government and it may strictly enforce the crackdown until the estimated number of illegal workers are detained.

MoFA Joint Secretary Bhandari said the embassy and labour attaché in Malaysia had been asked to manage air tickets for the detained Nepalis who were not able to purchase return tickets.

“Though working illegally in any country cannot be encouraged, the recent move will affect remittance inflow from Malaysia if undocumented Nepali workers are sent back,” said Ganesh Gurung, a foreign employment expert. “The trust that Nepali migrant workers in Malaysia have been able to build over the years will be eroded if the Malaysian government finds a large number of Nepalis working illegally during this crackdown.”