In July 2015, the government decided to adopt a free-visa-free-ticket arrangement for seven labour destination countries, shifting the financial cost associated with recruitment to the employer. The decision was in compliance with global recruitment practices and international laws governing labour migration. However, recruiting agencies based in Nepal protested against the decision in court as well as by taking to the streets.
But as the government stood by its decision and the court sided with the government, the agencies had no other choice than to comply with the decision. Two years after the decision was first introduced, despite ineffective implementation, it remains one of the most important policy decisions made by the government. This arrangement is not merely limited to shifting the recruitment costs to the employers; it also saves aspirant migrant workers from falling into a debt trap.
A large number of migrant workers fall under the lower or middle-income economic status and rely on hefty loans to pay for the recruitment cost. This compels the migrant workers to work even if they are cheated and exploited. The recruitment costs paid through loans and the cumulative interests of such loans hold back migrant workers and leave them with little choice but to continue working. Because of such economic burden and stark labour exploitation that causes physical and mental stress, foreign labour migration has had detrimental effects on many families.
Enduring the agony of extreme exploitation in the work place, living in a tiny room with stringent living conditions and facing physical hardship and mental trauma, many Nepali migrant workers struggle to pay back the hefty loans of migration. The World Bank has reported that 74 percent of migrant workers had to take loans to cover their cost of migration. Similarly, the ILO’s survey for the year 2014-15 has also shown that aspirant migrant workers have been taking loans with interest rates as high as 30 percent for foreign employment purposes. The free-visa-free-ticket arrangement can thus help aspiring migrant workers by relieving them of the burden of loans.
Zero-cost migration is a well-established principle in the domain of international labour migration that’s recognised in various international conventions including ILO’s Private Employment Agencies Convention, Forced Labour Convention, and Dhaka Principles for Migration with Dignity and others. Countries like the Philippines and Sri Lanka have strictly implemented this practice through domestic laws. Nepal is also under a legal obligation to ensure the same as per its international legal obligations and various bilateral commitments.
A recent study by Amnesty International shows that the free-visa-free-ticket policy is not implemented effectively in Nepal. This isn’t much of a finding, as recruiting agents have publicly stated that this policy cannot be implemented. The policy, despite being one of the best government efforts to help aspiring migrant workers, hasn’t been implemented, as it reduces the profits of those involved in the recruitment business.
The government has also largely failed to follow up on the implementation of its own policy. Thus, the most important decision on migrants’ welfare has also been the most discarded. Nepal chairs the Colombo Process, a regional consultative process for Asian countries and a platform for states to show their commitment to and good practices in international labour. So the thorny question is whether Nepal is truly committed to the welfare of migrant workers even as it chairs the Colombo Process.
There is only one proper way for Nepal to move ahead with regard to the free-visa-free-ticket arrangement. It needs to stick to the commitment and institutionalise the policy and firmly follow up on its implementation. Given Nepal’s unstable politics, which makes changes in government frequent, there are minimal chances that the decision made by one government will be easily accepted, appreciated and continued by the succeeding one. Hence, the decision needs to be translated in the form of regulatory arrangements with strict monitoring mechanisms. Anything less on this front would be a violation of the rights of migrant workers and another blot on Nepal’s international image in the context of labour migration.
Devkota is a law graduate from Loyola University, ChicagoPublished: 2017-07-11 08:20:00