Foreign job recruiting agencies renew call for removal of law they deem discriminatoryProvision requiring each agency to send a minimum 100 workers abroad for two consecutive years for licence renewal has become an impossible proposition for a majority of recruiting agencies hit by the Covid-19 pandemic.
As the ongoing fiscal year 2020-21 draws to a close, recruiting agencies that hire and supply migrant workers to foreign employers are once again worried over their fate.
Many recruiting agencies are concerned that they will not be able to renew their operating licence because of a provision in the Foreign Employment Act that has fixed a minimum number of workers a recruiting agency must send to be able to renew its licence and continue its business.
As per the existing provision, recruiting agencies must send at least 100 workers abroad every year for two consecutive years to qualify for licence renewal.
According to the Nepal Association of Foreign Employment Agencies (NAFEA)—the umbrella organisation of recruiting agencies, nearly 80 percent of recruiting agencies are at risk of losing their licence, as they have not met the criteria of sending workers due to various challenges, primarily due to the Covid-19 pandemic, this fiscal year.
The association, which has long been calling for revocation of the provision, has once again called for the scrapping of the provision, owing to the circumstances created by the Covid-19 pandemic.
Sujit Kumar Shrestha, the association’s general secretary, said that out of 855 recruiting agencies, only 123 have succeeded in sending 100 workers as required by the existing rules.
“Other 732 recruiting agencies have not been able to do so because of several issues due to the Covid-19 pandemic and other challenges that have arisen due to the pandemic,” said Shrestha. “In the last fiscal year, when the country was reeling under the first wave of the pandemic, we were able to work for at least four or five months. The situation got far worse this fiscal year in which the foreign employment sector bore a heavy brunt.”
The provision in question was included as part of the law with the fifth amendment to the Foreign Employment Act (2007) in March 2019. The Labour Ministry, then headed by Gokarna Bista, had brought the rule to discourage the mushrooming recruiting agencies and to minimise malpractices in the foreign employment sector.
Earlier, there was no condition where a recruiting agency had to send a certain number of workers to foreign employment in order to have its licence renewed. Ever since the provision was introduced, recruiting agencies have been lobbying against it, calling it discriminatory.
With the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020, most recruiting agencies struggled to meet the criteria as the whole labour migration sector was halted for several months due to the travel restrictions both at home and abroad.
Last year, the recruiting agencies had reached out to the government demanding that the provision is repealed. Considering the trouble brought by the pandemic to the foreign employment sector, the government then had agreed to renew their licence but with the condition that the recruiting agencies must send 200 workers combined in two fiscal years if they were unable to meet the threshold of 100 workers each in two consecutive years.
According to Shrestha, the situation has not gotten any better for recruiting agencies because the impacts of the Covid-19 on the foreign employment sector have still not ended.
“Last fiscal year, there was a months-long lockdown and businesses could operate only for a few months. Once the labour migration process resumed with the opening of international flights, the Gulf countries were observing Ramadan and the business prospects were once again halted,” said Shrestha. “And just when we were anticipating for the business to bounce back, when we were receiving impressive demand for Nepali workers, the second wave hit. Once again, everything came to a standstill.”
Like every other sector, which has suffered the consequences of Covid-19, Nepal’s foreign employment sector was also hit hard. Months of lockdown at home and in labour destination countries meant Nepali workers were deprived of taking overseas jobs. The impact was seen in the number of Nepalis migrating abroad which had slumped to a record low in recent years.
The ongoing second wave of the pandemic has once again brought similar challenges for Nepal’s foreign employment sector. With various countries under prohibitory orders and regular international flights suspended, recruiting agencies cannot send workers to labour destination countries.
“If things were normal, then there would be no problem in sending 100 workers and meeting the target. When we were slowly recovering from the loss dealt by the pandemic last year, the situation worsened in Nepal and in labour destination countries,” said Shrestha. “The Nepal government has itself announced a lockdown and suspended flights, which ultimately affected the foreign employment sector.”
The association has reached out to the newly appointed Labour, Employment and Social Security Minister Bimal Prasad Shrivastav and asked him to repeal the provision.
“Recruiting agencies have expressed their concerns to the ministry. Addressing their concerns requires some legal arrangements,” said Dipak Kafle, spokesperson for the Labour Ministry. “We can understand the trouble they are in due to the Covid-19 pandemic. The ministry is discussing the matter.”