Labour reliefDiplomacy key to succesfully enforce scrapping of Malaysia authorised exploitative out-migrant fees
It comes as no surprise that Nepalis willing to work abroad in the Gulf region or Southeast Asia suffer from exploitation in many forms. Now, there is hope that some of the financial exploitation out-migrants to Malaysia face before even getting there will be mitigated. In a move to alleviate the financial burden on Nepali out-migrants applying to work in Malaysia, the government in the last week has taken multiple steps against agents authorised by the Malaysian government to collect exorbitant fees from aspiring workers. The fees, largely criticised by Nepali out-migrants and even the Nepal Association of Foreign Employment Agencies (Nafea), are taken under multiple reasons such as for visa processing and medical check-ups. The Labour Ministry last Thursday said that they are scrapping all such extra fees charged by the third-party agents (which, it should be mentioned, are authorised by the Malaysian government). Then on Sunday, the government followed up by arresting operators running these various middle-agencies. While the government’s move to breakdown such syndicates exploiting out-migrants should be lauded, we have to wait and see how the Malaysian government will react to Nepal’s decision and actions.
The excessive financial burden on out-migrants started to add up beginning in 2013, when the Malaysian embassy decided to transfer visa processing services to authorised third-party services. The first Malaysian agent to enter services in Nepal was Ultra Kirana Sdn Bhd in November 2013, under its local partner Malaysia VLN Nepal. Back then, migrant worker visa processing fees jumped from Rs700 to Rs3,900—a more than five-fold increase. Then, in 2015, Malaysia decided to introduce third-party authorised agents in two more categories, for the Foreign Workers Centralised Management System (FWCMS) and for biometrics and health check-ups. Suddenly, health check-up fees rose from Rs2,625 to Rs7,700. This rise in costs was probably an important factor in the decrease in Nepalis looking for employment in Malaysia. Only 60,979 new Nepali migrant workers took up jobs in Nepal in 2015-16 from over 200,000 a year prior.
The decrease in out-migrants does not change the exploitation narrative, however. Over 485,000 Nepalis still work in Malaysia, and many more go there for employment every year. This number also does not account for the many Nepalis who faced this financial exploitation but have since returned back home. And the exploitation has only increased over the years. Until the government’s recent decision to scrap these fees, the average out-migrant aspiring to work in Malaysia had to pay at least Rs18,480 to authorised third-parties under various headings. This is against current Nepali law on what out-migrants can be charged.
The government’s decision to remove this additional financial burden from migrant workers travelling to Malaysia is important. It is a good step towards protecting the interests of a section of its citizen who are already burdened—having to travel abroad to earn a decent wage to support themselves and family. However, it should be careful in handling the situation with maximum effort on diplomacy. Malaysia is still an important work destination for Nepalis, and therefore an important country of origin in terms of remittance. Our government is under the impression that the new Malaysian government under Prime Minister Mahathir will be open to scrapping such agency fees that were introduced unilaterally—without consulting Nepal—by his predecessor’s government. Let’s hope that this is the case.