Workers fear new rule for Nepali migrants could lead to a loss of jobsWorkers now need to produce evidence of skills and the jobs they are currently doing in order to receive a labour re-entry permit.
A new rule for migrant workers who have returned home from various labour destinations has left government authorities, the Nepali diaspora and labour rights activists divided, as there are fears that thousands of Nepalis working abroad could lose their jobs.
The Department of Foreign Employment, the government body responsible for overseeing labour migration, recently decided that Nepali migrant workers who have returned to Nepal for a break would be required to produce documents that prove their skills required for the jobs and mention the relevant profession on their visas in order to receive a labour re-entry permit.
The department has said that the rule is aimed at ensuring uniformity vis-a-vis the workers’ visa details, job contracts and work permits. But labour rights activists and Nepali workers say that the government’s decision will only deprive Nepali workers of well-paying jobs.
According to Kul Prasad Karki, chairperson of the Pravasi Nepali Coordination Committee, an NGO working for the welfare of migrant workers, the decision is likely to do more harm to poor migrant workers than help them significantly.
“Workers, knowingly or unknowingly, are compelled to do jobs different from what is stated on their visas. For example, whenever a company needs an accountant, they hire workers on a general worker or construction worker visa. This is normal practice,” said Karki. “This also happens because some countries like Saudi Arabia reserve some categories of work for their citizens, but employers still prefer to hire from countries like Nepal. Nepali workers are well paid for such jobs, and the local authorities have no problems with that.”
According to the department, many Nepali workers were found to be engaged in different professions after entering the labour destination on working visas for drivers, heavy machinery operators and other technical jobs that require specialised expertise and certificates to prove their skills.
Workers being unable to produce evidence that proves their expertise and skills has often resulted in complications in providing them with re-entry labour permits, said the department.
A Nepali doctor, who has been living and practicing medicine in Doha, Qatar, said that Nepali workers doing different jobs than the ones they received visas for is rampant in Qatar. There are tens of thousands of such workers in Qatar, a labour destination of choice for Nepali migrant workers, he said.
“The new rule lacks oversight. If there is a plane crash at the airport, you don’t shut down the entire airport forever,” said the doctor, who requested confidentiality. “Some workers arrived on cleaner or construction worker visas a long time ago. And, with their hard work and experience, they have become supervisors now. So how are they going to produce a certificate now, and how will their original work permit match their current job contract?”
According to the doctor, there are similar cases with workers who come to work as drivers. If they are unable to get a driving licence for various reasons, their employers often provide them with other jobs, like storekeepers, which pay well.
“Without a driving licence, they cannot work as driver. Nor can they return home as they have invested a lot of money just to get here,” said the doctor. “If the local government has no problem with such practice, why does the Nepal government have an issue with poor workers making money with whatever job they have?”
The department, however, said that the rule was introduced to protect Nepali workers in the long run.
“When Nepalis are doing different jobs than the ones they were promised during the hiring process, it raises questions about their legal status,” said Bhisma Kumar Bhusal, director-general of the department. “As per our laws, salary, designation, nature of work, and other facilities should not differ from those mentioned in the worker’s initial demand letter. Any changes in these facilities and jobs can also be linked with human trafficking.”
The department has asked Nepal’s missions in major labour destinations to inform Nepali workers to follow the new rule before returning to Nepal.
But the Non-Resident Nepali Association’s National Coordination Council in Qatar has criticised the government’s decision. In a statement, the Qatar chapter said that the latest decision threatens the jobs of Nepali workers who have been working happily, even if their profession has changed.
The release said that the latest requirement could invite a massive loss of jobs and will increase irregularities. Opportunities for Nepali workers in Qatar have already shrunk because of competition from other labour supplying countries.
“This decision should not be an umbrella law for all categories of workers. There are many certified engineers who are earning nearly Rs1 million in monthly salary but have entered the country on different professional visas. They will also lose their jobs,” said the Nepali doctor. “Other workers have huge gratuities that their company owes them. Qatari employers too are already getting irritated with our complicated procedures. This decision might see a decrease in the demand for Nepali workers.”
The Department of Foreign Employment, however, believes that the rule is necessary because there have been numerous complaints where workers said they were duped and forced to do jobs other than what they were promised.
“It’s also about giving due recognition to the workers for the work they have been doing. They should be given respect for their jobs,” Bhusal told the Post. “If a worker is working as a supervisor, the employer should give a letter approving that job, mentioning it on their passport at the time of visa extension. Many employers have already committed to do this. If the new rules hurt the 5 percent but benefit the other 95 percent, then it is good.”
The foreign employment department has asked workers to return to Nepal with certificates that prove their working skills for their current job and an updated visa that mentions their profession.
But, according to Karki, if the government really cared about the protection of migrant workers, they would strictly monitor the worker recruitment process, which is opaque in Nepal.
“How can you expect a low-level worker to come up with a certificate of their experience from a country that discriminates against them and exploitation is well-known. Why would a big company indulge in such hassles to produce such documents for them?” said Karki. “Many will lose jobs. Others will never return to Nepal fearing they might not be able to return to their well-paying jobs.”