Agencies providing pre-departure training, fitness certificates say government ignores themAs agencies continue to struggle amid pandemic, costly renewal process burdens them before the fiscal year end.
Foreign employment-related service provider agencies say they feel ignored as the government has not considered providing them relief while their businesses remain badly affected for over a year due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
Pre-departure training providing institutes and health institutions that conduct the medical examination of aspiring migrant workers complained that the government left them to fend for themselves amid the worst crisis in decades.
While they have continued to struggle during the pandemic, they are further burdened by the costly renewal process with the ongoing fiscal year nearing its end.
According to Raja Ram Gautam, the president of the Federation of Foreign Employment Orientation Association Nepal, which represents 137 organisations providing pre-departure training to migrant workers, many operators are struggling with the renewal process due to procedural difficulties caused by the pandemic.
“They are asking for complete documents and full payment of renewal fees. Tax clearance certificate is another crucial requirement for renewal. Until our landlords clear their taxes, we cannot clear our taxes but how will they clear their taxes until we pay them as we do not have the money,” said Gautam. “Pre-departure training providing institutes remain mostly closed. Since there were no transactions, it is not possible to arrange all the documents. So we are scrambling to negotiate the licence renewal process.”
The Department of Foreign Employment, the central government agency responsible for the management of the labour migration sector, has already asked foreign-employment related service providers to renew their licences by July 15.
Pre-departure training providers have been asked to submit more than a dozen types of documents including the payment receipts of guarantee deposit of Rs500,000 and license renewal fee of Rs10,000.
“As we are undergoing financial hardship, we had also requested for a discount on the licence renewal fees, but that request went unheard as the labour minister changed. Then we requested both the ministry and the department to at least facilitate in arranging the necessary documents because the proprietors of the organisations outside the Valley cannot even travel to Kathmandu. We are ready to pay the renewal fees, but the authorities should give us some time to submit the documents.”
According to Gautam, 20 to 25 organisations risk losing their licences this time, whereas 15 organisations quit the industry after they could not submit the guarantee deposit last fiscal year.
Pre-departure training providers had to deposit the guarantee amount of Rs500,000, a hike from the previous amount of Rs 300,000, in the last fiscal year when the labour migration business was devastated by the first wave of the pandemic.
Amid soaring coronavirus cases at home and in labour destination countries, the government had suspended labour migration for several months, which ultimately affected foreign employment service providers like recruiting agencies, health facilities that conducted medical examinations of migrant workers, and pre-departure training providers.
Their pleas for discount or relief have fallen on deaf ears.
“For small organisations like ours, Rs500,000 as cash guarantee is too much even during normal times. As the industry was badly hit by the pandemic for several months, businesses had to take loans and are struggling to pay the interest,” said Gautam. “Even now, pre-departure training providers have been paying rents and staff salaries from their own pockets in the hope that the labour migration sector will ultimately rebound.”
Things are not any better with the health facilities issuing medical certificates to foreign-bound migrant workers.
Last fiscal year, when the first wave of the pandemic had ravaged the foreign employment sector, they also had to deposit the guarantee money of Rs500,000.
“There was no assistance from the government side,” said Sitaram Regmi, president of Nepal Medical Occupational Organisation—the umbrella organisation of the health facilities that issue medical fitness certificates to migrant workers. “Instead, medical facilities which conduct medical examinations by taking a few thousand rupees were burdened with hefty deposit amounts, which is unnecessary.”
Of the 225 health institutions across the country which examine health and issue fitness reports to migrant workers, 160 are associated with the Nepal Medical Occupational’s Organisation.
According to Regmi, asking Rs500,000 as a guarantee deposit was illogical as these facilities have already invested millions of rupees for buying medical equipment and setting up the facilities.
“Our business is not as profitable as recruiting agencies, but requires huge investments. We even requested the government to return the deposit amount to those companies, which are facing financial hardship,” said Regmi. “Unable to cope with the losses due to the pandemic, many have already left the industry. But some have started outpatient services and pathology lab services.”
Both Regmi and Gautam agree that their requests for government support could go unheard due to the political instability in the country.
“The frequent change of minister at the Labour Ministry has not been helpful” said Regmi. “We put across our issues with one minister and before he can do anything, a new minister is appointed. The high turnover of secretaries has also caused problems.”
Gautam echoes Regmi.
Both of them feel that the government has treated them unequally compared to the recruiting agencies, which have been allowed to renew their operating licenses despite being unable to meet the worker export requirement.
Recently, the government paved the way for licence renewal of recruiting agencies even if they failed to supply a total of 200 workers in the last two fiscal years combined. Last fiscal year also, as they could not supply a minimum of 100 workers in each fiscal year for two consecutive years, the government had allowed them relaxation and asked them to meet the criteria in two fiscal years.
“The government has ignored our concerns because we are a small industry and do not have political connections,” said Gautam. “We are in no less bad shape than the recruiting agencies because we are components of the same foreign employment industry.”