Thousands of Nepali migrant workers from Persian Gulf and Malaysia expected to return home soonA study by the Foreign Employment Board has estimated that at least 127,000 migrants will return home immediately once travel restrictions are lifted.
At least 127,000 Nepali migrants are expected to return home once all travel restrictions are lifted in the immediate aftermath of the Covid-19 pandemic, according to a preliminary study by the Foreign Employment Board.
Ever since the pandemic shut down countries across the world, labour migration scholars have been warning about the potential impact to Nepali migrants abroad, many of whom have already lost their jobs. Hundreds of thousands are currently unemployed and under lockdown in foreign lands. Most of these workers are expected to return home, according to the Foreign Employment Board, the government agency responsible for the welfare of migrant workers.
According to the study, 127,000 Nepali migrant workers are expected to return home immediately while another 407,000 others are expected to return in the long run as economies contract due to the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic.
“The estimated number of workers who might return home has been compiled after coordinating with Nepali missions and an analysis of the situation in consultation with experts,” said Rajan Prasad Shrestha, the Foreign Employment Board’s executive director. “We wanted to estimate the number of workers returning home and those who have lost jobs.”
The estimated number of workers returning home only includes Nepalis in seven destination countries—Qatar, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Bahrain, Oman, and Malaysia. These seven countries host an estimated 1.3 million Nepali migrant workers.
According to the study, nearly 280,000 Nepalis have already lost their jobs since the pandemic hit these countries and therefore want to come home. The estimated number of 127,000 includes those who will return immediately but all of the 280,000 who’ve already lost their jobs are expected to return eventually.
As a large number of Nepali workers have already lost their jobs, many are without food and money. But they cannot return home because Nepal has suspended all international flights until the end of May.
Ever since the Covid-19 pandemic, which originated in China in December, spread to major labour destinations in the Persian Gulf, and Malaysia, a fear of Nepali workers losing their jobs and returning home en masse has loomed large.
“The number looks high also because migrant workers have not returned home since the country is under a lockdown. On normal days, if hundreds of Nepali workers are leaving to work, then hundreds of workers are also returning home,” said Shrestha. “The number has gone up also because many have lost their jobs and undocumented or illegal migrants have applied for general amnesty in the host countries in order to return home.”
According to Shrestha, the report has been submitted to the Ministry of Labour, Employment and Social Security.
The thousands of migrants who will return home looking for jobs will unleash a crisis in the country, according to Labour Ministry spokesperson Suman Ghimire.
“While there is already pressure to save existing employment opportunities and create new jobs inside the country, a large number of migrant workers returning home definitely adds pressure,” said Ghimire. “But in any case, workers who are stranded and whose visas and work contracts have expired need to be brought home.”
Earlier this week, Foreign Minister Pradeep Gyawali said that a plan to repatriate migrant workers who’re in critical condition abroad is underway. Gyawali estimated that over 35,000 workers need immediate repatriation.
According to Ghimire, the government is working on a phase-wise response plan to bring back workers.
“Several ministries have been working on flight management, collecting information, quarantine facilities, and socio-economic reintegration for migrants,” said Ghimire.
Returning migrants will need to be placed in quarantine, in light of the pandemic. But given the number of migrants returning, existing quarantine facilities might not be adequate, said Ghimire.
“We are considering several options,” he said. “For example, they can be kept in 14-day quarantine either in the Kathmandu Valley, which is the entry point, or in their respective provinces or the local level.”
The highest number of Nepali workers affected by Covid-19 and awaiting their return home is in Qatar, where they have been living under squalid conditions. According to the study by the employment board, 75,000 Nepali workers wish to return home immediately, whereas nearly 145,000 are estimated to return in the near future.
Labour migration experts have been calling on the government to arrange for employment opportunities for migrants through special plans and policies in the upcoming budget.
“Migrant workers are not a burden on the country as they will return with skills and experience,” said Ghimire. “We will be collecting details on their skills and will employ them in the respective sector.”