Around 25,000 outbound Nepali youths stuck due to flight suspensionRecruitment agencies call for allowing few weekly flights to labour destination countries.
Thousands of Nepali youths who were planning to take up jobs overseas have been unable to leave the country due to the suspension of international flights since the past two weeks owing to the Covid-19 pandemic.
Amid record spikes in Covid-19 infections and deaths, the government had suspended all international flights, except for two flights between Kathmandu and New Delhi, since May 6 midnight. Special chartered flights however have been allowed.
According to an estimate by the Nepal Association of Foreign Employment Agencies (NAFEA), an umbrella organisation of Nepali recruiting agencies that supply Nepali migrants to foreign employers, nearly 25,000 Nepalis could not migrate abroad since the imposition of the flight suspension.
“Thousands of Nepalis have been deprived of overseas employment opportunities,” Sujit Kumar Shrestha, general secretary of the association, told the Post, adding, “These workers had completed all the process and were ready to leave the country when the flights were suspended all of a sudden.”
According to Shrestha, the highest number of youths were bound for Qatar, followed by Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Oman and Bahrain in the Gulf region.
“Besides, a significant number of workers had also received work visas for countries beyond the Gulf region. They were ready to fly to Romania and Cyprus as well as the Maldives,” said Shrestha.
As the second wave of Covid-19 picked up pace in Nepal and its labour destination countries last month, labour migration once again was hit hard just like during the first wave last year.
As a result, the number of Nepalis seeking to migrate abroad had already dwindled in the weeks before the country finally halted international flights.
According to the association’s estimates, at least 2,200 workers had even bought their flight tickets.
“At least these 25,000 Nepalis would have started employment abroad if there were no restrictions,” said Shrestha. “Foreign jobs are already scarce since the pandemic struck last year and these people have been deprived of their hard-earned jobs. The government should make some arrangements to send them.”
Officials at the Department of Foreign Employment, the oversight body of the foreign employment sector, also admit that the flight suspension has served a big blow to thousands of foreign job aspirant Nepalis.
According to Krishna Prasad Dawadi, the director-general of the department, nearly 24,000 migrant workers have received labour permits since Baishakh [April 14]. Of them, nearly 4,000 have received labour permits online after the government suspended the international flights.
“As per our estimates, nearly half of those who had received labour permits might have flown to destination countries. But around 10,000 workers are stuck here,” said Dawadi. “Even after the suspension of flights, some workers approached us for labour permits saying they would leave the country on chartered flights. We issued them labour permits.”
However, the department officials admitted that there haven’t been any discussion about making any special arrangements for sending the workers as the issue is beyond their jurisdiction.
The ongoing international flights suspension has already been extended till May 31.
The recruiting agencies, however, have been demanding that the government schedule a few regular flights to destination countries to ensure that those youths who have already secured jobs could travel.
“Despite the suspension, two flights per week from India have been allowed even though the Covid-19 situation is terrible there. Then why can’t the government allow a few weekly flights to labour destination countries?” said Shrestha. “We have requested the government agencies to operate a limited number of flights to the labour destination countries where Covid-19 cases are low.”
Last week, the government said Nepalis could also travel on chartered flights meant for evacuating foreigners stranded in Nepal. Besides, the government is also considering resuming a limited number of commercial flights for select countries.
“Chartered flight is not a good option for migrant workers because the ticket prices are exorbitantly high and it only promotes underhand practices in ticket sales. So regular flights should be the priority,” said Shrestha. “The government need not open all the flights but a few weekly to countries like Saudi Arabia and Qatar from where there will be connecting flights to other destination countries. Resuming regular flights is in favour of workers as they have already invested huge amounts to secure foreign jobs.”