Bureaucratic run-aroundThe government can at least ensure hassle-free access to testing, jabs and vaccine passports.
Paperwork, paperwork and more cumbersome paperwork. For Nepali migrant workers who are desperate to land a job overseas, their arduous journey from one government office to another, from their village to the district headquarters and then to Kathmandu, one window at a time to secure documents, permits, certificates and authorisations, can take anywhere from several weeks to months or even up to a year. In the process, they are deceived by middlemen, manpower agencies and corrupt government officials. This is a story of countless Nepali men and women who religiously queue up and endure the injustices imposed on them to overcome frustrating obstacles before they finally board a plane to their destinations with little guarantee that they’ll get what has been promised. There are harrowing stories of slavery-like conditions in the labour destination countries where they are exploited to death, and accounts of human trafficking, with uncertainties and dangers at every step.
The economic and social disruption caused by the Covid-19 pandemic that took hold last year was a different plight altogether, and migrant workers were no exception. Jobs were slashed overnight, and wages were cut and deferred. Many migrant workers were stranded and survived under the open sky with no support from Nepal’s foreign offices before they were repatriated or could get a ticket and navigate their way back home as countries closed borders to contain the pandemic. Once home and out of quarantine, thousands of migrant workers who pursued their dreams of a decent life suddenly found themselves in increasing financial and livelihood uncertainty amid never ending stay-at-home orders. As the Covid-19 situation evolved at home and globally, the future of the migrant workers continued to remain bleak with no substantial support from the government that relies heavily on remittance money.
Sixteen months into the pandemic, employment opportunities overseas are gradually opening up as economies try to restart by easing travel restrictions that have been in place for most of the year. As governments of labour destination countries open their borders for migrant workers who have been fully vaccinated against Covid-19, it has renewed hopes for Nepali migrant workers. Still, their journeys remain arduous, and there is more paperwork to take care of. The government’s lack of responsibility to manage the vaccination drive and arrange a standard certification system at par with international standards has added to the chaos. With vaccines scarce, access to jabs accepted in destination countries is a privilege to come by, and requirements of vaccine certificates have resulted in serpentine queues outside vaccine certification centres, increasing infection risks of the public amid the threat of more contagious Delta variants.
It is a bureaucratic failure to persistently ignore the plight of the migrant workers who have taken upon themselves the duty to find jobs and support their families. The least the government can do while it fails to create opportunities or reintegrate returnees at home is to facilitate and ensure hassle-free access to testing, jabs and vaccine passports. The government should have anticipated that vaccine preference and passports are inevitable and done its homework accordingly to make things easier for migrant workers. As more countries open up, vaccine passports will become a norm, and the demand for them will increase in the same manner as it is for life-saving vaccines. The government has to develop digital solutions as introduced globally instead of pushing manual paperwork. The upgrade would not only be future-proof, but would also save time and resources and, in addition, a Covid-appropriate response to evolving challenges in international travel. It all boils down to management.