Kuwait-bound workers face new obstacle as jab certificates do not have QR codeNepalis who are home on job break fear losing employment as their vaccine certificates don’t have the required QR code.
This time the wait to return to work has been simply too long for Keshab Sanjyal, a Nepali migrant worker in Kuwait.
Sanjyal, 32, has been employed at a multinational construction company in Kuwait since 2014. Every year, he would get a vacation for a few weeks, return to Nepal, spend some time with family in Tikapur, Kailali before heading back to Kuwait City.
But things have been different and complicated this time.
Sanjyal has been stuck in Nepal since March 6, 2020. Before he could fly back, the Covid-19 pandemic hit both Nepal and Kuwait. Nepal suspended flights for several months. Even though Nepal resumed flights months later, Kuwait had still barred entry for outsiders, including Nepalis, making his stay at home longer.
“I somehow managed to extend my visa as I could not travel to Kuwait immediately due to the pandemic,” Sanjyal told the Post. “Now all I have been doing is waiting and it’s been nearly a year and a half.”
The hope of returning to Kuwait for Nepali workers like Sanjyal, who have been unable to join their jobs, grew in mid-June. After keeping its doors closed for Nepali workers for more than a year, the Kuwaiti government decided to allow foreigners.
There was a condition, however, they had to be vaccinated.
The Kuwait government decided that only vaccinated expats would be allowed to return to Kuwait if they are jabbed with vaccines it has approved.
It has been 13 days since Sanjyal has been in Kathmandu navigating the vaccination process.
Nepal’s labour destinations have made vaccination a primary condition for allowing entry to outsiders, leaving Nepali migrants struggling to get vaccinated and meet other conditions for entry.
After numerous hassles, Sanjyal managed to get vaccinated on July 21, following a government decision to administer vaccines to outbound migrant workers.
Then, he needed to obtain a separate vaccination certificate as the vaccination card issued by the Nepal government was not accepted in those countries.
Sanjyal, like hundreds of other migrant workers who have been struggling to get jabbed, also managed to secure a vaccinated certificate.
But it did not yet ensure him a Kuwait entry as the Kuwaiti government demands a vaccine certificate with a Quick Response (QR) code, which the vaccinated certificate issued by the Nepali authorities does not have.
“After two days of running from pillar to post and standing in a queue from 4am, I got vaccinated. Then there was an additional two days of rush for getting the vaccination status certified,” said Sanjyal. “But the hard-earned certificate is not recognised by Kuwaiti authorities as it does not have a QR code. We need to upload these documents online before our flights, but without a QR code it cannot happen.”
Nepali authorities’ ad-hoc decision has been rubbing salt to the wounds of Nepali migrant workers who are desperate to join or resume foreign employment but have not been able to do so due to pandemic-led restrictions and the vaccination rules in the destination countries.
Nepali authorities first did not prioritise outbound migrant workers for vaccination. When they finally decided to administer them with Covid-19 vaccine, after persistent pressure from workers, recruiting agencies and migrant rights activists, they were allotted the Vero Cell vaccine, which only added more hassles to their plan to migrate.
As the Chinese-made Vero Cell required two doses in a gap of four weeks and was not approved by many destination countries in the Persian Gulf countries, it was deemed impractical for migrant workers.
Days later and after a hue and cry, the government again decided to administer them with the single-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine.
The vaccine woes of Kuwait-bound workers were not over yet as now workers had to get their vaccination cards certified. Vaccinated workers once again ran from pillar to post, shoving against each other, to get their vaccination cards certified.
“It took me several days to get vaccinated and obtain a vaccination certificate,” said Rajkumar Maharajan, 26, who has been in Nepal since February 8. “If only the government had asked us to fill up forms online and generated QR codes, it would have saved us a lot of time and money. This is not too difficult.”
As the country has mostly run out of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine received in donation from the US, the government again decided to administer them either the Johnson & Johnson or Sinopharm’s vaccine depending upon their travel plan.
Maharajan said he had to pay Rs1,100 to various government agencies, including Rs500 to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, for getting his vaccination certificate verified.
“I have been visiting the Teku hospital every day in the hope that they would arrange a certificate with QR codes for Kuwait-bound workers,” said Maharjan. “Besides paying for the certificate, several of my friends have travelled to Kathmandu and are staying at hotels only to get vaccinated and the certificate. So far there has been no success.”
On Thursday, a group of Kuwait-bound workers staged a demonstration outside the Department of Health Services at Teku, demanding vaccination certificates with QR codes.
According to Sanjyal and Maharjan, it would take at least two to three weeks before the government can start issuing such certificates.
As per the Kuwaiti authorities’ guidelines, expats like Sanjyal, Maharjan and hundreds of others stuck back home and are immunized with vaccines approved by Kuwait, must upload their vaccination certificates with QR codes on the website of the Kuwaiti health ministry and can board the flight only after verification by the ministry.
“Your application is not approved unless your vaccination certificate has a QR code,” said Sanjyal. “We have been told by Nepali officials that it would take two to three weeks to make arrangements for QR code and that means it will take more time for us to have our certificates verified by the Kuwaiti authorities.”
Nepali migrant workers’ worry looks valid as the Kuwaiti Ministry of Health, which is mandated to verify the certificates uploaded by expats, has been rejecting a large number of such certificates.
As per reports, of the 73,000 vaccine certificates uploaded by expats by July 25, 18,000 certificates were approved while 10,000 vaccination certificates were rejected due to various reasons, one of them being the lack of QR code.
Around 100 Kuwait-bound Nepali workers who have come together through a WhatsApp group have been drawing attention of the authorities as they fear they might lose their job opportunities if they do not report to their jobs on time.
As per the estimates of Kuwaiti authorities, around 280,000 expats—majority of them Arabs and Asians—with valid Kuwaiti visas are stranded outside.
Kuwaiti media have also reported that a total of 250,000 residence permits of foreigners have expired after their sponsors have not renewed the permits whereas thousands of foreigners have left Kuwait due to the pandemic-induced conditions.
According ot Arab Times, a large percentage of expats will not be able to return to Kuwait even after the reopening of the airports from August 1 due to various reasons. Some of the reasons include the strict conditions related to health and vaccination.
“Many expats have not received vaccines which are approved in Kuwait whereas some countries have not adopted authentication methods (barcode) to verify over the internet as required by Kuwait to ensure the authenticity of vaccination certificates,” read an Arab Times report.
As the Gulf state slowly moves towards normalcy with the easing of restrictions for its citizens and opening limited international arrivals from Sunday, several hundred Nepalis fear losing their well-paying jobs.
Although commercial flights to and from Nepal, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, and India remain suspended indefinitely, they hope that flights to and from Nepal will resume from August 10.
The Kuwaiti government has been studying the possibility of resuming flights from the five countries. And, before this Sanjyal, Maharjan and hundreds of others want to have their vaccination issues resolved.
Maharajan who had returned home only for 45 days after a medical emergency in the family wants to go back as soon as possible.
“I cannot risk losing my job. My employer has been constantly calling me to join the work at the earliest,” Maharajan. “Job opportunities are really scarce here in Nepal where even the educated struggle for jobs. I was earning more than Rs120,00 per month in Kuwait. If Nepali workers do not report on time, they might start hiring workers from countries like India and Bangladesh as they cannot wait for us forever.”
The group is planning to organise a sit-in in front of the Ministry of Health on Sunday afternoon to pressure the government to manage vaccine certificates with QR codes.
Sanjyal, who also plans to join the sit-in protest on Sunday, however does not know how long he will have to stay in Kathmandu. He said he had already spent Rs20,000-22,000 in Kathmandu for vaccination, besides Rs7,000 for a labour permit.
Meanwhile, he is constantly worried about his job as a foreman which earned him handsome salary and other perks, including an office vehicle and driver.
His visa expires on September 13.
“I have realised that government officials are not even well-informed about the rules in the labour destination countries and have been making decisions arbitrarily. I am vaccinated but my vaccination certificate is of no use,” said Sanjyal, a father of two. “My company wants me back. I desperately need this job because after staying jobless back home for more than a year and a half, I have realised that we do not have jobs here and those odd jobs do not pay enough to feed your families and educate your children.”