Nepal | November 14, 2019

Labour migration: Emerging challenges

Jhabindra Bhandari

Although the Ministry of Labour and Employment introduced the provision of free visa and free ticket to reduce the migration cost, its effective implementation is still lacking

Illustration: Ratna Sagar Shrestha/THT

In today’s globalized world, labour migration for foreign employment is receiving high priority in most developing countries. Over the years, there is significant motivation for international migration from Nepal. The outflow of labour migrants in recent years is mainly to Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries and to Malaysia.

As many as 1.2 million jobs were available in 27 countries, according to the pre-approval granted by the Department of Foreign Employment in 2014/15. And, the international demand for Nepali labour is high. Nepali labour migrants have obtained permits to work in as many as 142 countries over the past seven fiscal years (2008/09–2014/15).

The outflow of migrants in the past decade has been remarkably significant in the context of socio-economic development. Nepal has emerged as a remittance economy, shaped by the migrants’ cash flows, so much so that it has become the third-largest recipient of remittances—as a share of GDP—in the world in 2012 and the top recipient among the least developed countries.

Undoubtedly, foreign employment has provided alternative livelihood opportunities, and remittances have helped to augment household incomes. Therefore, migration is increasingly recognized as a development agenda. For the first time, migration is included in the 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda. There is a dedicated target on facilitating safe, orderly, regular and responsible migration and mobility of people. Other issues of migration and health, environmental change and gender dimensions of migration are also prominently articulated.

Most recently, Ministry of Labour and Employment in coordination with Ministry of Foreign Affairs convened national multi-stakeholder consultations with government, civil society, development partners, private sectors, academia and media to identify country-specific priorities and challenges associated with migration. These consultations have been instrumental in articulating specific challenges, opportunities and the way forward to be addressed in Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration (GCM).

The GCM essentially seeks to set out a range of principles, commitments and understanding regarding all dimensions of international migration, and present a framework for comprehensive cooperation to advance migration governance at large. More importantly, this is guided by Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and hence will result in actionable commitments with a framework for implementation and follow up.

The priority issues identified in GCM are protection and promotion of human rights which importantly highlights inclusion of migrants in host societies.  Sometimes, there are evidences of discrimination and limited access to basic services to migrants and their families. It is also important to ensure obligations of migrants towards host countries. National policies and strategies should, therefore, address some of the important drivers of migration such as climate change, natural disasters, poverty and conflicts.

The migration governance primarily aims to advance international standards and fulfillments of migrants’ rights by engaging a range of partners to address migration related issues. The purpose is to ensure that migration takes place in a safe, orderly and dignified manner.  International cooperation needs to be further strengthened to advance socio-economic well-being of migrants and families.

Other issues of interest are related to effective engagement of migrants and diasporas to development which will specifically include remittances and portability of earned benefits. Apart from this, the smuggling of migrants and trafficking in persons are emerging challenges in terms of providing protection and assistance to victims. society organizations have been advocating the issues of irregular migration and its creeping impacts on the lives of migrants and their families. The promotion of labour rights and safe environment for migrant workers in the destination countries will lead to regular pathways for safe migration. Highlighting the challenges and opportunities of labour migration, the State Minister Dilli Bahadur Chaudhary urged all relevant stakeholders to unite to protect and promote the rights of migrant workers and their families. He appreciated the Colombo Process (CP) event in Kathmandu where member states presented important issues, challenges and opportunities related to labour migration, and provided perspectives on how these could be better addressed in GCM.

More significantly, the CP which is now chaired by Nepal is a regional consultative process on the management of overseas employment and contractual labour for countries of origins in Asia.

Although the Ministry of Labour and Employment introduced the provision of free visa and free ticket to reduce the migration cost, its effective implementation is still lacking. The cost of migration, such as the charges, commissions and fees, including hidden expenses for foreign employment and labour permission is still high. There is an emerging need to promote ethical recruitment and, more importantly, periodic monitoring of the implementation of foreign employment policies and plans.

Bhandari is a PhD candidate Chulalongkorn University, Thailand

A version of this article appears in print on September 20, 2017 of The Himalayan Times.

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