Different shades of migrationThe exodus of skilled workers who could have made a healthy living in Nepal is also noteworthy.
Ask every second person in Nepal about their future prospect, and their answer would be to go abroad. That a total of 774,976 no objection certificates (NOCs) were issued in the last year alone and that this number is exponentially increasing every year proves it. This mentality of leaving everything behind and settling in a foreign land applies to every age and profession. What is confounding is that the current migration rate is higher than during a decade-long Maoist insurgency (1996-2006). The people’s crowd at the airport speaks volumes about Nepal and its political economy. If this trend continues, it is just a matter of time before the country will be left with people in their evening of life.
Migration is as old as human civilisation. Wars, poverty, opportunities, education, socio-cultural and political threats, natural calamities, etc., are responsible for people’s movement from one place or country to another. While some pundits argue that poverty is the cause of migration, this is not the only cause. Nepal is a low-income country with minimal employment opportunities. However, the Nepal Labour Migration Report 2022 shows that out of the total labour approvals issued, 38 percent are skilled and 7.4 percent are semi-skilled workers. What’s more, Nepali universities are emptying, with most young talents applying abroad and striving to get permanent residence, as do professionals such as doctors, nurses, IT professionals, professors and engineers. The numbers show that about 0.1 percent, or about 800 of the total NOCs issued, are for professionals and high-skilled workers. Therefore, it is not only about economic causes; the migration of skilled workers who could have made a healthy living in Nepal tells a different story.
The primary cause of the current unstoppable migration is political chaos, which leads to unstable economic turmoil. Politics and economics cannot be separated. Nonetheless, politics has more to do with migration than economics. When it comes to the migration of high-skilled workers and professionals, politics and the rule of law top the chart: About 600 professionals leaving the country annually is a severe problem. It takes years of hard work, perseverance and money to produce human capital at the professional level, and Nepal already lacks such a knowledge base.
There is a widening gap in the mindset of the public and politicians in Nepal on two fronts: Education and knowledge and governance. Of these, governance is the most significant. The major and old political parties’ handling of political and economic affairs has caused despair among people. The disdain for current political leaders and their desultory political and economic governance reveals people want change. Take, for instance, the increasing predilections towards the rallies of the former autocratic monarch’s supporters. People have lost hope in current leaders so much so that they seem ready to trade democracy for an autocratic regime, even at the cost of their freedom.
Crippled public services due to a lack of education and expertise among leaders to implement the right policies are further deteriorating the situation. No authority provides hassle-free service in hospitals, schools, public transportation, law enforcement or administrative services. People are dying without basic health services and even due to a lack of paracetamol in the country’s rural areas. Children don’t get books for months in government schools, criminals are getting ignored or even rewarded, corruption is increasing exponentially, judicial and other independent bodies are not free from political meddling, and experts and professionals are not getting appropriate respect and roles in decision making.
Individuals, seeing no hope, are even ready to undertake perilous journeys, walking thousands of miles, risking their lives and paying millions of rupees—at which, if the politics, system of governance and public administrative services were good, they would have started their own businesses and made a very healthy living in their own country. But people are unwilling to return at any cost, making rural sections of Nepal no less than a ghost town.
Therefore, the current raft of people moving abroad, even when they have a good living standard in Nepal, is not because of poverty but the political irresponsibility of inept leaders and the sinking system. This, in effect, is driving the economy to run out of steam. Migration especially caused an economic downturn, further pushing the situation into chaos. Lack of human capital, expertise and talent is restraining new startups, shutting down the existing businesses and worsening already decreasing opportunities, thereby increasing unemployment and skyrocketing predilections to go abroad.
Meanwhile, the government is either oblivious to this fact or has no interest in addressing this serious issue. Its policies to send workers abroad with free visas and tickets are more than sufficient to argue that it has no intention to stop migration and increase economic opportunities in the homeland. The migration of workers, though highly dangerous for the economy, is, in fact, beneficial for political leaders in the government in two ways. First, this ameliorates their weakening grip on poor and unskilled workers by sending them abroad on the one hand and strengthening their bargaining power by eschewing employment opportunities on the other. Second, remittances sent home are their government’s panacea to reduce the current account deficit and maintain existing international trade.
The government can accumulate foreign exchange reserves in four ways: foreign direct investment (FDI), exports, donations and loans and remittances. When FDI, due to a lack of the right policies and securities is crippled, and the government has no plan to promote and implement the right policies to produce exportable goods, the only way to keep the country unscathed from going bankrupt is remittance. This is exactly what is happening in Nepal. However, high remittance dependency can invite worse yet unseen problems sooner than expected. At the current rate, Nepal will face an acute labour shortage and lack of young talent in less than a decade.
Stopping the current migration rate should not be as hard as it seems. Although the current economic situation has some effect on unskilled workers’ migration, which will take some time to reduce, the migration of skilled workers and professionals can be stopped by improving the governance system and integrity, taking their advice in decision making and enhancing public services, thereby making the country livable. This will create a conducive environment in the country by mobilising professionals and highly skilled workers in productive sectors. This will eventually increase employment opportunities, reduce workers’ migration, and start giving dividends to the economy.