Lost without recourseMore than two years since the implementation of the ‘free visa, free ticket’ policy for out-migrant workers by the government, this scheme has been largely ignored by recruiting agencies.
More than two years since the implementation of the ‘free visa, free ticket’ policy for out-migrant workers by the government, this scheme has been largely ignored by recruiting agencies. And the government is not doing enough to enforce it. Potential out-migrant workers continue to suffer from a lack of information and fall into numerous illegal traps.
In June this year, Amnesty International, the human rights watchdog, in its report on Nepali out-migration called Turning People into Profits highlighted the plight of workers at the hands of employers and recruiters, and the inefficacy of the Nepali government.
The report offered numerous cases of Nepalis being riddled with debt, having had to take loans from local Nepali moneylenders (at up to 36 percent interest) to pay recruitment agencies more than Rs200,000 to find employment abroad. The migrant workers found that their employers paid them far less than what was agreed upon and often withheld payment for months. Workers are also forced to work under conditions not agreed on under their employment contracts.
Under Nepali law, recruitment agencies are supposed to pay for the repatriation of workers who are found to be working in unfavourable conditions that are not mentioned in their original contracts. Research conducted by Amnesty did not find a single case where the recruitment agency had fulfilled this obligation.
Nor has the government of Nepal (GoN) been able to enforce its ‘free visa, free ticket’ policy, which it implemented in July 2015. Under this policy, barriers to out-migration such as ticket prices and visa fees were to be borne by recruiters. And recruitment agencies were not allowed to charge more than Rs10,000 as service fees to the workers.
However, a follow-up research by Amnesty, on December 18, shows that two-thirds of Nepali migrants still pay excessive illegal recruitment fees. And unscrupulous agencies have been found to go to great lengths to evade punishment, such as sending middlemen to collect the money. Of the workers in the survey who had paid an illegal recruitment fee, 90 percent did not receive receipts from agents. Amnesty found that Nepali workers were advertised to employers as hardy workers, “completely dedicated to work even in adverse situations”.
That recruitment agencies in Nepal are open to exploiting their fellow citizens for profit is worrisome. But what is more worrisome is the fact that our government lacks enforcement of the existing law. It is clear that attempts made to educate out-migrants about the fee restrictions, free visas and tickets, and about free repatriation under exploitative conditions have not made much headway. Also, that recruitment agencies are not brought to book despite their exploitative measures shows a clear lack of will to enforce laws strictly on the part of the government. Migrants not only remit what amounts to 30 percent of the national GDP, they are a vulnerable population who deserve protection from the state.