It goes without saying that Nepali migrant workers have sustained our economy through their blood and sweat. By toiling under the scorching heat in Saudi Arabia or by taking up backbreaking jobs in construction sites in the Middle East and other countries, they send remittance—in billions, accounting for nearly 30 percent of country’s GDP—to sustain livelihood back home. During the most difficult times of blockade and earthquakes, our brothers and sisters from far away have helped prevent country’s economy from falling apart. Political class seems to take pride in this fact, undermining their plight. They are cheated by the unscrupulous manpower agencies, and sometimes even the government officials in Kathmandu. For most their ordeal begins right after they take off from Tribhuvan International Airport. They are underpaid or subjected to inhuman treatment by their employers in host countries. Yet, they are the ones who keep our economy afloat. Thus if there are people the state needs to honor it should be migrant workers. But the government institutions formed for the purpose of ensuring their wellbeing look more interested in extracting funds from them, and at times, even blatantly misusing their hard-earned money.
Consider the revised regulation on foreign employment unveiled on Monday by the Foreign Employment Promotion Board (FEPB). The new regulation makes it mandatory for every Nepali going abroad for employment to deposit up to Rs 2,500 in Migrant Workers’ Welfare Fund (MWWF). Those going overseas with three-year work contract will have to deposit Rs 1,500, while those serving under more than three year contract will have to deposit additional Rs 1000. Earlier, it was only Rs 1500. On the face of it, an outbound worker having to pay additional Rs 1000 may not be a big issue. But this increment is hard to justify given that MWWF already has the fund of around Rs 3.5 billion, which remains either unspent or misused by the politicians as well as the government officials. The fund which should be utilized exclusively for the welfare of migrant workers has been squandered in the name of administrative expenses of frontline offices and Nepali embassies in destination countries.
This fund is also found to have been used for the overseas visits of government officials and for buying vehicles. Nepali missions in Korea, Saudi Arabia and Malaysia purchased vehicles with the money from the fund last year. Around two dozen government employees, including from the Department of Foreign Employment, have been found visiting foreign countries by mis/using this fund. This is not why the Fund was created in the first place. It is a great disrespect to migrant workers. The government in the recent years has demonstrated more sensitivity towards migrant workers. The government of Pushpa Kamal Dahal, for example, had in January, increased insurance premium for outbound migrants by a significant margin. Compensation for documented migrant who dies abroad was raised to Rs 700,000. This was a welcome step. But raising deposit money in MWWF is hard to justify. It would be justifiable if MWWF was inadequate to provide for the needs of the migrant workers. As things stand, this is not the case. It is only going to add economic burden on around 1500 Nepalis who leave the country for foreign employment every day.