No laughter here

Going out of the country in search of employment has been a strong tendency of Nepali youths for some years. In the process, most of them have spent their savings, taken loans at pretty high interest rates, mortgaged or sold their houses — all in the hope of retrieving them soon enough and making more so that their and their families’ bright futures could be ensured. But all have not been so lucky, as many

lost their money and paid their foreign sojourn

with life or limb. But overall, the remittances from abroad have increased over the years, becoming a mainstay of the national economy, even as the domestic economy has continued to perform poorly for years on end. So, unsurprisingly, hundreds of youths leave for foreign lands every day (an average of 561 in 2006-07, according to official data) as the domestic job market is not looking up, and the youth see ahead of them a dismal future staring back. But, employment and labour officials say an equal number leave the country unofficially.

The trend of Nepali migrant workers going abroad has increased even during the 15 months after Jana Andolan II. This explains the dismal job prospects and the deteriorating industrial environment at home. These do not present a bright job (and security) scenario in the short term. And there is no accounting for migrant labour moving across the Nepal-India border in either direction. Though Nepali workers head to 32 countries for employment, four — Malaysia, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates (UAE), in that order — together absorb 93.5 per cent of them. In the gender mix, the proportion of females, always very small, has declined during the year, just to 390, and this appears to have dropped further because of recent Israeli halt to accepting Nepali women as domestics and caregivers.

As regards the quality of manpower, 90 per cent Nepali migrant workers are unskilled labourers. Even then, their contribution to the national economy has been huge. For years, Nepali workers have been going abroad for employment, their unskilled state at such high rates shows that the government has not done much by way of exploiting foreign job opportunities for Nepalis and raising their level of skill. The government has been compelled by public or other pressure to take some steps from time to time when problems besetting the manpower business or the plight of Nepali workers become acute and unavoidable. The recent labour pacts with South Korean and the UAE are cases in point. At least, Nepal could have increased the proportion of semi-skilled labourers in its labour mix, thus considerably boosting their earnings. In fact, the government has played very little role in promoting Nepali labour. While the export of manpower brings in foreign exchange for a cash-strapped economy, no country in the world has become a developed one just by exporting its labour. The exodus of physically the best part of the population for services abroad has its own domestic implications, including their adverse impact on the country’s gross domestic product.