Labour flight problem: Time to address it

Migration of the youth force, which has the potential to change the society socially, economically and politically, is causing adverse impacts not only on social demography but also on most of the productive sectors

Youths make up a vigorous and vibrant force for any nation. But we have been seeing a high rate of youth migration – mostly to Gulf countries and Malaysia – for jobs. Are we doing enough to retain our youths and use them in nation building? Are there proper governmental policies to address the issue?

In its policies and programmes presented on Monday, the government has claimed that no one has to go abroad for employment after five years. Such announcements, however, are not new and they are usually part of political propaganda.

Latest Central Bureau of Statistics figures show unemployment rate among youths aged 15-24 is just 2.3 per cent. This means, at present, of around 6 million youths of this age, only 1.4 million are unemployed, and the rest (5.5 million) are employed. In most of the developed countries such youth employment statistics is considered a great achievement when it comes to government’s employment policy.

A Reuters article published early this month said: “US hiring rebounded in April and the unemployment rate dropped below 4 per cent for the first time since 2000.” Some Republican media have described this as an achievement of the Trump government. However, even with such low unemployment rate of ours, which is about half of US, we seem extremely polite to claim our success. Why?

The irony is that two governmental sources always tell contradictory statistics.

If we look at the annual record of the Department of Labour, it shows in 2014-15 about 450,000 youths took labour permits for foreign employment. But most of the labour related researchers think that the government statistics from DoL tells only a partial story of youth flight for foreign employment. Researchers claim that around same number of youths depart to India where labour permit is not required. Thus, in reality, a little less than a million youths are leaving the country annually.

This youth migration has also brought good remittance to the country. The contribution of remittance in the national GDP is around 29 per cent, we are getting about 13 times more money from remittance than from tourism.

But what about the family structure of the country?  Such huge migration of youths from the country has made strong impact on the socio-demographic composition. Child birth is declining, female-headed households are increasing, nuclear families are on rise, and the worst part is trending cases of fraud in marital relationship and divorce among such migrating spouses.  According to recently published police records, 980 divorce cases were filed at Kathmandu District Court last year, mostly by remittance earning spouses, which was 30 per cent more than the cases filed in the previous year.

Migration of the youth force, which has the potential to change the society socially, economically and politically, is causing adverse impacts not only on social demography but also on most of the productive sectors.

The agriculture sector has been worst affected. Around 30 to 40 per cent of arable land in rural areas is now barren. A country which was exporting rice and pulse until a decade ago is now importing food and vegetables worth Rs 63 billion, which is about 14 per cent of the total import.

Labour shortage is felt in every industrial and construction fields. This remittance economy has developed luxury consumerism. We are a good market of luxury goods like automobile, mobile phone, fridge, colour television, among others. We are now importing, food and luxury goods mainly, more than eight times than what we export goods. This has created a huge trade imbalance.

Last year our trade-deficit was 34 per cent of the GDP, 27 per cent higher than in the previous year.

According to the CBS, every year about half a million youths enter the job market, and only 10 per cent (50,000) get job in the country. If the government aims to retain the youths in the country, at least 100,000 new jobs need to be created every year. For this, there should be new industries, construction projects, business activities and service-oriented activities.

If the government indeed initiates it ambitious mega projects such as road, railway and hydroelectricity, more jobs will be created, but that will be sufficient.

The government must invest in the agriculture sector and provide facilities and ensure improved seeds, fertilisers and agriculture equipment. It is high time Nepal’s agriculture is mechanised. Loans should be made easier for farmers while irrigation system should be strengthened. Agriculture contributes around 35 per cent to the GDP. But in recent years, the agriculture sector’s contribution to the GDP has slumped to a little over 20 per cent. Ease in establishing industries, facility of road and electricity and minimum wage certainty could boost industrial expansion. Skill development training is required. NGOs should provide regular skill development trainings at semi-urban centres and government should monitor and financially support these NGOs.

Without effective intervention and drastic changes in the working modality of the government for skill enhancement, wage security and workers insurance, the country in the next decade is very likely to face serious socio-economic catastrophe from the draining of capable youth force.

Satyal is a professor at Department of Statistics, Tribhuvan University