With Gulf countries banning commercial flights, labour migration sector stares at uncertainty againThe emergence of a new strain of coronavirus has forced many countries, including labour destinations, to once again close their borders.
Chandan Kumar Mandal
Nepal’s foreign employment sector, which was slowly recovering after months of shock from the Covid-19 pandemic, has hit another snag, as labour destination countries, mainly in the Persian Gulf, have closed their borders over fears of new variants of the coronavirus.
A new and potentially more infectious variant of the novel coronavirus was discovered in the UK, leading several countries to seal their borders once again and ban entry for outsiders. The latest travel restrictions imposed by several countries are reminiscent of the early days of Covid-19 pandemic.
“Some countries in the Gulf have cancelled flights. We don’t know how long the new measures will last, and how the new strain will affect these countries in the days to come,” said Sujit Kumar Shrestha, general secretary of the Nepal Association of Foreign Employment Agencies, an umbrella organisation of recruiting agencies in the country. “If things remain the same for a long time, then it can seriously impact our labour migration sector once again.”
Saudi Arabia, one of the leading labour destination countries for Nepali migrant workers, on Sunday announced that it will cancel all flights to and from the country and also ban entry for foreigners through its land and sea entry points for at least a week, with the possibility of extending the rule for another week.
Two other Gulf countries—Kuwait and Oman—also followed in the footsteps of Saudi Arabia and decided to shut their borders to stop the spread of the virus with the new strain.
Kuwait suspended all commercial flights and closed its land and sea borders starting 11 pm on Monday. Likewise, Oman closed its land, air and sea borders starting from Tuesday.
The flight bans in West Asia mean Nepali workers once again can’t travel to work in these countries until these restrictions remain in force.
Earlier this year, when the coronavirus had spread in the Gulf countries, they had also banned the entry of outsiders. Such a ban stalled Nepali migrant workers’ movement, as the government also stopped issuing labour permits in mid-March.
The latest ban is likely to hit the foreign employment sector, which was slowly recuperating with the resumption of labour migration after five months of complete shutdown.
“We faced a hard time for several months due to the pandemic. Recruiting agencies had started receiving demands for workers from these countries after they had slowly opened up,” said Shrestha. “Agencies had started the hiring process of workers who could not go abroad for many months. However, if the new ban persists, things will get worse for workers who have not recovered well from months of slowdown.”
As per the statistics of the Department of Foreign Employment, 23,065 Nepalis have received labour permits to work abroad until mid-November after labour migration partially resumed in June.
According to Shrestha, more workers could have gone abroad if workers’ demand attestation for Saudi Arabia had begun.
The government has not yet thought of halting the issuance of labour permits for countries which have closed their borders, said Tikamani Neupane, spokesperson for the Foreign Employment Department.
“If the second wave of coronavirus comes with the new strain, it will make it difficult for us as well. Some countries have already banned entry for outsiders,” Neupane told the Post. “Issuance of labour permits for those countries that have banned flights has not stopped. Even if workers receive labour permits, they can’t travel, as those countries have already restricted commercial flights.”