Malaysia announces travel ban on Nepalis over rising cases of coronavirus infectionCitizens of Nepal, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Pakistan will be barred entry. Nepali recruitment agencies fear other countries may follow suit.
Nepal’s labour migration sector is set for yet another blow as Malaysia is working to temporarily ban Nepalis from entering the country citing the Covid-19 pandemic. Malaysia is a major labour destination country for Nepali migrant workers.
Amid soaring Covid-19 cases in Malaysia in recent weeks, the Malaysian government is working to ban Nepalis and the citizens of three other South Asian countries—Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Pakistan.
The Southeast Asian country has been seeing a steady surge in Covid-19 cases over the past few days. The country reported 3,551 new cases on Thursday, taking the national Covid-19 tally to 427,927 cases. Thursday’s Covid-19 infection numbers marked the three consecutive days of the country crossing the 3,000 mark.
According to The Star, a local English-daily, Senior Minister Datuk Seri Ismail Sabri Yaakob on Wednesday made an announcement about the impending ban.
“The travel restriction imposed on the citizens of these countries involved all categories holding long-term social visit passes, business travellers and for social visits,” Yaakob, the minister, was quoted as saying by The Star. “Exemptions are, however, given to holders of diplomatic passports and officials as stated in the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations 1961. This category will be considered to enter Malaysia using the existing standard operating procedure.”
The ban on Nepali citizens will further hurt Nepal’s foreign employment sector, which is already headed for a spell of uncertainty with an eight-day suspension of international flights, which starts from the midnight of May 6, and domestic travel restrictions owing to the Covid-19 pandemic.
The Malaysian move may lead to other destinations countries imposing similar restrictions on Nepali migrants, says Sujeet Shrestha, general secretary of Nepal Association of Foreign Employment Agencies (NAFEA), an umbrella organisation of Nepali recruiting agencies involved in hiring and supplying Nepali migrant workers to foreign employers.
“Other destination countries can follow suit if the situation continues to worsen in Nepal,” said Shrestha. “In that event, Nepali foreign employment sector will suffer huge losses.”
In a bid to contain the spread of the virus, the Malaysian government, on Wednesday, enforced new movement restrictions in the capital Kuala Lumpur for two weeks—starting from Friday. Many parts of the country have already been implementing lockdowns.
The Malaysian ban on the four South Asian countries follows its temporary ban on flights to and from India, which is battling one of the world’s worst Covid-19 outbreaks. Malaysia suspended India flights from April 28.
Although the government has not said when would the ban come into effect, the move has further eclipsed the prospect of reviving labour migration to Malaysia which is already at its all-time low.
In the first nine months of the ongoing fiscal year, when 117,592 labour permits were issued to aspirant migrant workers for various countries, a meagre 990 were issued for Malaysia-bound workers, according to the records at the Department of Foreign Employment.
The number of people leaving for Malaysia in the last nine months looks small also because Malaysia has remained one of the most preferred labour destinations for Nepali migrants with around 400,000 Nepalis currently employed in the country.
“New workers had not been going to Malaysia for over a year now,” said Chhatra Bahadur Shah, director at the Foreign Employment Office, Tahachal, the government body that issues labour permits. “Bulk hiring has stopped but a small number of workers are still going in their individual capacity. But once this travel ban comes into effect, even that small flow will stop.”
Even in the fiscal year 2019-20, which was a disastrous year for Nepal’s foreign employment sector when the country saw a remarkable drop of 27.5 percent in overall labour migration numbers, 59,714 Nepalis still departed for Malaysia.
In October last year, the Malaysian government had rolled out a plan to impose a cap on foreign workers to secure more jobs for local citizens. This will lead to more jobs cuts for Nepali workers.
“Even when labour migration had resumed with the resumption of international flights last year, Malaysia was not fully open for Nepali workers. There is demand for Nepali workers in Malaysia, but Nepali could not go to Malaysia in big numbers,” said Shrestha. “The country had been going through several political turmoils. Even now, we cannot do anything other than wait and watch.”
The political crisis that started in February last year has resulted in the resignation of Mahathir Mohamad and the downfall of the coalition government of Pakatan Harapan, after being in power for 22 months following their remarkable victory in the 2018 Malaysian general elections. The crisis led to the appointment of Muhyiddin Yassin as the country’s eighth prime minister in March. However, the political problems have continued even when the country is in the midst of the pandemic.
Meanwhile, in Nepal, citing the spike in Covid-19 cases, the Foreign Employment Office, on Thursday decided to halt all its services that require beneficiaries to visit its Tahachal office in person.
Issuing a notice, the office said starting Friday, it has indefinitely suspended its services like issuing of new labour permits, final labour permits, status legalisation, and re-entry labour permits, for which migrant workers need to be physically present at the office. A re-entry labour permit, which can be provided online, however, will be available, the office said.
“The government has decided to suspend all the non-essential services. As per the government decision, we have halted these services for now,” said Shah. “The number of people visiting our office for labour permits was already nominal since the imposition of prohibitory orders. On Thursday afternoon, only seven had applied for labour permits online and 36 others visited the office at Tahachal.”