Issues in foreign employmentNepal's foreign employment management regulation remains a subject of controversy.
Nepal has witnessed significant changes in several policy domains after the introduction of a federalist constitution in 2015. But foreign employment policies are examples of what have remained unchanged despite massive changes in the political system. The Department of Foreign Employment’s internal database suggests that about 3 million Nepalis are currently employed overseas with authentic documentation. Their contribution to Nepal's economic and social development is unparalleled in any other policy area in Nepal. Yet, the entire Nepali foreign employment management regulation remains a subject of controversy.
Five ubiquitous elements of foreign employment management are intensifying the controversy in its policy and praxis. The first element refers to its conceptual domain. Nepal’s foreign employment legislation has failed to bring conceptual clarity in some of the perennial subjects. For example, there is no policy consensus on when Nepalis should be sent for foreign employment. Are we going to keep sending our people abroad for the foreseeable future?
Similarly, policymakers are unclear about the role of the government in sending Nepali youths to work overseas. When should the government take the lead, and when should it facilitate the private sector’s involvement in sending Nepali citizens for foreign jobs? Clarity is absent in defining skills too. On the one hand, the government requires its citizens to be technically sound to contribute to the advancement of our own country. On the other hand, Nepali policymakers keep expressing the desire to send skilled human resources for foreign employment. Who will build this nation if we encourage professional human resources for overseas employment? If we continue to prioritise sending unskilled people, how will their working conditions improve?
The second area of contestation is in the monitoring aspect of private sector agencies. The regulatory provisions in the Foreign Employment Act 2007 for the private sector seem to be relatively robust, requiring government agencies to be more vigilant about, among other things, how recruitment processes are carried out. The existing landscape of monitoring modalities and procedures of the Department of Foreign Employment does not appear to address the current need to work with private recruitment companies. This has resulted in an atmosphere of misunderstanding between the government and private sector agencies, which eventually hampers the government’s effort to regulate the foreign employment management sector in an acceptable manner.
The third is providing welfare services to foreign employees and their families back home. According to the prevailing legislation, the Foreign Employment Board–a responsible authority to deliver welfare services to foreign employees and their families–cannot provide welfare services to those who do not register before departing for foreign employment. However, the law clearly outlines the role of private sector agencies in providing welfare services to migrant workers and their families should they require any assistance due to breach of the employment contract or other unforeseen reasons. Problems arise when private sector agencies refuse to offer such support.
Fourth, contestations emerge over the roles and responsibilities of Nepal as a labour sending country and the governments of many labour receiving countries. It seems that almost all the bilateral labour agreements perfectly outline several principles, including fair recruitment, responsibilities of the governments, and duties of those involved in foreign employment management. In practice, however, many actors show reluctance to follow such arrangements. Joint technical committees discuss such practical gaps, yet their performance and efficacy are always questionable.
The fifth area of controversy relates to how the foreign employment regime in Nepal is working with like-minded national and international organisations. There are instances of such organisations at the national and international levels being engaged in offering information services, conducting capacity development related activities, facilitating grievance handling mechanisms, and sometimes helping victims reach the appropriate government entity. The question here is whether and under what conditions the government should allow endogenous and exogenous organisations to be involved in what foreign employment sector.
Finding possible solutions to these problems requires three interrelated interventions. The first is reform that must be instigated at the political level. Such reforms should exclusively answer the question of "leadership" in sending Nepali youths for overseas employment: When, under what circumstances, and how should the government itself recruit Nepali citizens to send to different labour destinations, particularly to those countries with which Nepal has signed bilateral labour agreements?
The second is rather managerial. What has been particularly felt in the last few years is a clear communication gap between jurisdictions. Private sector agencies are considered to have less accountability toward government agencies and or foreign employees. This feeling can be addressed by having regular conversations between recruitment agencies, advocacy organisations and the government with the sole objective of developing a common multilateral understanding of controversial issues. This intervention should be designed so that all measures within the regulatory framework are participatory and thus acceptable to all relevant actors in the foreign employment management cycle.
Finally, when the government of Nepal prepares to sign bilateral labour agreements or memorandums of understanding, the role of the receiving countries in handling controversies must be drafted carefully. Informed by scientific evidence, the government can and should cooperate with the destination countries, advocacy organisations and campaigns, and the private sector in the countries of origin and destination with the hope of bringing positive changes in the management of foreign employment.