Migration tale

  • Nepal needs to invest in models that encourage the return of out-migrants, so that their skills may be utilised at home.
- Anita Poudel

Apr 12, 2019-

Ram Prasad, a foreign migrant worker, was staring at his mobile screen, which displayed a picture of his family, while returning to Saudi Arabia after a short visit to Nepal. Meanwhile, Nirmala was crying over the phone as passengers were getting ready to board the same flight. These are only a few instances that represent the common struggles most of the Nepali foreign migrant workers go through.

I had a chance to listen to their stories on my flight to Saudi Arabia. Ram mentioned that he had been working in the Gulf country for about 13 years now. He mentioned that he had been planning to return to Nepal for the past five years, but it hadn’t worked out in his favour. Some Nepali friends that he that made in Saudi Arabia had also approached him for a partnership to start a cow farm in Nepal. But his apprehension and insecurity of starting everything again with no assurance of financial assistance, made him withdraw from the plan. Lack of financial assistance for returning migrant workers and negative societal pressure further contributed to his insecurity and, thus, his inability to commit to this plan.

Nirmala, on the other hand, was travelling to a foreign land for the first time. Her innocence caught my attention. Despite of her preferences, her decision to go to Saudi Arabia was governed by limited availability of financial opportunities. Her desire to work abroad, as she mentioned, was heavily influenced by her peers who migrated abroad for work.

I feel helpless observing this situation: We seem to boast our demographic dividend on one hand, whereas fail to capitalise on returning migrants’ skills and knowledge on the other. Our approach to dealing with this situation needs some serious reconsideration in the following aspects.

Counseling desk

As an initiative on foreign lands (mostly labour receiving countries), we can start counseling desks that can provide relevant information and assistance for potential returnees, on where their skills can be absorbed once back in Nepal. For this purpose, we can mobilise our diplomatic missions. These counseling desks can provide networking and information related to loans, procedures for starting a business, and success stories to motivate and encourage them along with psycho-social counseling when needed. The recent initiative from the government to start a call centre service for migrant workers is highly appreciated. However, these types of initiatives should not only be limited to facilitate their stay in a foreign land, but need to aim to ease transition post-returning in the long term.

Focused financial programs

If we look at the data, Nepal received nearly Rs699 billion in remittance for the fiscal year 2016/17, ranking fourth in the list of countries with large remittance to GDP ratios. Creating focused financial opportunities could be a good start for which we can learn from the initiatives of different countries. The Philippines, for example, have made three services available to migrants: savings accounts; investments in existing businesses; and special start-up funds through various local institutions. Besides, they have also been providing skills training, logistical support and networking, and a social support programme to educate and organise migrant workers. Mexico has also been supporting productive projects through migrant worker’s remittances in a politically independent program. Bangladesh is also trying to bridge remittance with micro-enterprises in the country. Private financial institutions, micro enterprises and the corporate sector should also be sensitised to the potential use of remittance for economic development.

Post-arrival orientation

Data from the fiscal year 2011/12 shows that 480,990 Nepalis migrated out for work, where 349,943 people were going for the first time and 131,047 were repeat migrants. The high number of repeat out-migrants shows that returnees may not have enough support to want to stay back. It is necessary to create an effective transition continuum to the migrants. Post-arrival orientation can include entrepreneurship development training, preparation of business development plans, CV preparation etc. These post-arrival programmes would help migrants to start their own business or utilise their skill by associating with other institutions where they can contribute, learn and utilise their skills and money in an effective manner. For a country like Nepal, where remittance plays a vital role in the lives of the people, the long term sustainability and growth of the country’s economy is possible only when country is able to capitalise and retain the skills and money of its returned migrants in their own home country.

Behavioural shift

We focus on designing policies on reducing problems arising from migration, and yet, are unwilling to change our own attitude and behavioural disposition. This dichotomy has cost us heavily in the past few years. Emotional support from society also plays a major role in creating an atmosphere. Additionally, socio-psychological intervention is equally important for the returnees to understand their dignity of labour, self-respect and the value of their hard work. This would promote a culture of appreciating the value of work. We currently have an unhealthy attitude towards division of labour—there is a reluctance to do the same type of work at home that we are willing to do abroad.

If these things are not duly and timely considered, we shall lose many Nepali youths, their skills, creativity and talents to foreign lands forever. In order to prevent this, it is important to create an atmosphere that appreciates and welcomes all the different skills people have learned overseas.

Poudel is a training and research officer at Nepal Administrative Staff College

Published: 12-04-2019 08:19

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