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According to the 2011 census, 50 percent of Nepal’s households had at least one member who was working or had worked abroad. The vast majority of Nepali migrant workers go to India, for which they require no passport, visa, or labour approval. This migration flow is difficult to track, and also lies outside the jurisdiction of the Department of Foreign Employment. The following infographics only pertain to countries other than India, for which workers must get labour approval from the Government of Nepal.

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Going abroad

An aspiring Nepali worker has three routes for going abroad for work: via manpower agencies, via individual channels (family networks, or via self-application), and via the government-to-government channel.

Manpower agency channel

The worker’s route through the manpower agency based recruitment channel is but one strand in a larger network comprising various government and private entities crossing paths with each other, creating several nodal points where workers could potentially be exploited. There are agents/middlemen across the network who promise to facilitate the process to the next point. The agents charge arbitrary fees for services that the worker could have availed of for free or for minimal cost, creating additional financial burden on the aspiring worker. Illiterate workers, unskilled workers, and workers with no prior experience tend to fall prey to such agents, often starting at their own home districts.

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Government to government channel

This is a government-controlled recruitment process. The government of the country of origin and country of destination sign a memorandum of understanding regarding the terms of migrant labour, their pay, perks, and other facilities. This process excludes non-governmental/private recruiting agencies who often swindle aspiring migrant workers and charge high fees for processing their documents.This process is set up to avoid potential extortion of migrant labourers during recruitment as well as during their service in the employing company. Aspiring migrant workers sit through a few tests–such as language tests and interviews–and the destination country’s government agency finalizes their selection. Successful candidates then arrange travel documents and go to their jobs. 

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Individual channels

If the aspiring worker has a relative already working at the company they are applying to, the relative can mediate their application process with the foreign company. The Department of Foreign Employment (DOFE) verifies their documents and their relationship with the mediating relative abroad, and they receive permission to fly to the host country. Not all aspiring workers will have relatives working abroad, and thus only a limited number of Nepali migrant labourers travel via this route.

For the self-application process, aspiring workers themselves handle all the procedures pertaining to applying to the foreign company and seeking work permission with the Nepali government. The DOFE does extensive cross-checking for anyone opting to go through this channel, which makes this process too challenging for most workers. Only the more higher skilled workers take this route.

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Before this pandemic period, the process of returning home was simple. But new procedures for the Covid-19 crisis mean returnees now face a convoluted pathway of forms, red tape, and middlemen. Agents convince returnees that they can secure them limited and expensive tickets to return home, courtesy of the agents’ efforts and contact network. These promises may not always be fulfilled. In theory, the worker can navigate the approval and ticket process themselves. But many workers are illiterate and unable to even fill government forms for the return approval. The process is also inconvenient for workers who may have limited mobility in the host country during the pandemic. Government channels are not functioning at optimal capacity. All these factors encourage the increase of agent involvement in the process, resulting in further economic burden on workers already stretched thin by the pandemic and layoffs.