Lack of clarity over ban on Malaysia leads to confusion among aspiring migrantsThe government never formally announced a prohibition of migrating to Malaysia for work, foreign employment agencies say.
On Saturday morning, nearly 150 Nepali youths lined up inside the Battisputali-based Classic Overseas Manpower. The recruiting agency was conducting interviews for jobs in Malaysia, where the migration of Nepali workers has remained suspended for nearly 15 months now.
Following a tip-off that the agency was conducting interviews to supply workers to a Malaysian company, a team from the Department of Foreign Employment, led by section officer Kushal Baral raided the recruiting agency.
During the investigation, the team discovered that the candidates had been asked to pay as much as Rs150,000 for job at the Wawasan Packaging Enterprises in Malaysia. The interview was being conducted by recruiting agency officials and three representatives from the employing company.
The only problem with the worker hiring process was that the government has prohibited Nepalis from working in Malaysia, following a crackdown on illegal syndicates involved in charging Malaysia-bound Nepali workers large sums of money.
“The Nepal government has not allowed the departure of any new workers for Malaysia. The agency was conducting interviews without the approval of a pre-demand letter,” Baral told the Post. “But the agency was sending new workers for whom calling visas had not been issued. So we cancelled the interview, returned the candidates’ passports and asked the manpower operator to appear before the department.”
Sharadha Neupane, chairperson of the recruiting agency, refused to comment when asked why her agency was sending workers to Malaysia despite a government ban.
According to Rohan Gurung, president of the Nepal Association of Foreign Employment Agencies (NAFEA), the umbrella organisation of recruiting agencies supplying workers for foreign employers, pre-demand letters are valid for three years and the agency can send workers based on those documents.
“If the agency was sending the workers based on approved pre-demand letters, it has the right to do so. But if they were hiring new workers for Malaysia, it’s the department that takes a call, ” said Gurung.
As the ban on sending workers to Malaysia continues and there is no certainty when the ban will be lifted, recruitment agencies are attempting to covertly send workers to the Southeast Asian country, which has emerged as one of the most popular labour destinations for Nepali workers.
Of more than 3.5 million labour permits issued by the Department of Foreign Employment between fiscal year 2008-09 and 2016-17, nearly 30 percent were for jobs in Malaysia. In the fiscal year 2017-18, a total of 137,311 work permits were issued for Malaysia-bound workers.
Most of the workers attending Saturday’s interviews had already spent nearly Rs10,000 on medical examinations and Immigration Security Clearance (ISC) conducted by GSG Services Nepal. Though these pre-departure processes are only required after workers receive their calling visa, the recruitment agency asked them to complete these processes even before an interview.
In order to outsource workers to destinations like Malaysia, recruitment agencies first need to get the workers’ pre-demand letters approved. Once the first demand letter is approved by the Department of Foreign Employment, workers submit their documents to the recruiting agencies before going through an interview process. Workers then receive a calling visa after completing all pre-departure processes.
But labour migration to Malaysia has remained suspended for nearly 15 months now. Nepal and Malaysia signed a landmark labour agreement in October last year. This was supposed to ease the process for Nepalis to fly to Malaysia for jobs. But nine months after the signing of the agreement, labour migration has yet to begin.
Recruitment agencies have been demanding that the government lift the ban on sending Nepali workers to Malaysia, saying that the country could lose its biggest labour market.
“The ban started in October 2018. Then, there was a labour agreement between both countries. A formal labour agreement means that both countries have agreed to the supply of workers,” said Gurung. “But nothing has happened. Recruiting agencies have deposited guarantee money in huge amounts to get the licence to operate businesses. How long should we wait? ”
Following concerns from thousands of workers, the Ministry of Labour, Employment and Social Security had decided to allow workers with calling visas to leave for Malaysia.
According to NAFEA, nearly 7,000 Nepali workers with calling visas had been awaiting their turn to reach Malaysia, but the department says that most of them have already reached Malaysia now. However, the fate of new job seekers in Malaysia is still unknown.
While the government is still unable to provide a date for when migration to Malaysia will resume, recruiting agencies have started demanding that the government at least allow agencies with pre-departure demand letters to send workers. Last Tuesday, the recruiting agencies had protested outside the department seeking the resumption of labour migration to Malaysia.
“Within four days of our protest, recruiting agencies have started the hiring process. This shows that these agencies will ultimately defy the ban,” said Gurung. “If the government does not lift the ban, workers will be cheated.”
Department spokesperson Bhola Nath Guragain, however, said that since this was the first instance of recruiting agencies conducting interviews since the ban and it did not mean that recruiting agencies would defy the government ban.
Gurung said that the government had never formally announced a ban on working in Malaysia, but had only scrapped illegal fees.
“In May last year, the government had launched a crackdown on those syndicates. It never said that it had banned workers from going to Malaysia,” Gurung said. “There is no formal notice on the websites of the Labour Ministry and the department that talks about any such ban. Such confusion only leads to workers getting cheated.”
Two aspiring migrant workers from Dhanusha, who refused to be named, told the Post that they had heard that Malaysia was open.
“We heard that workers can go to Malaysia now. In my village, there are many people who wanted to go to Malaysia but could not due to the government ban,” one of the men told the Post.
The Labour Ministry, meanwhile, has said that it is working to set up the mechanisms necessary for implementing the deal.
“The major part of implementing the deal was selecting new health institutions to conduct medical tests for workers. We are currently enlisting such health institutions,” said Dipak Dhakal, under-secretary at the Ministry of Labour. “Both countries had decided that new mechanisms will be developed for workers’ fitness tests. The new health standards were received late so it took us some time.”
A joint technical committee meeting, consisting of officials from both countries, is likely to set things in motion. The Labour Ministry has dispatched a letter to Malaysia, requesting the meeting which has not happened since October.
“The Nepal government alone has not stopped labour migration. Both countries need to finalise mechanisms as per the understanding before resuming migration again,” said Dhakal. “Malaysia is currently not taking in workers from anywhere since they are reviewing their policy of hiring foreign workers.”
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