Outbound migrant worker numbers down 75% amid COVID-19 fears: Officials

Published On: March 7, 2020 08:39 AM NPT By: RUDRA KHADKA

KATHMANDU, March 7: The number of Nepali workers going abroad in search of foreign employment has sharply declined in recent weeks after the outbreak of the new coronavirus in China and its rapid spread in different parts of the world. Foreign employment officials estimate the number of outbound migrant workers has declined by 75 percent.

The decline in the number of outbound migrant workers is even lower than what the country witnessed in the aftermath of the 2015 earthquakes.

Director General at the Department of Foreign Employment Kumar Prasad Dahal said the number of Nepali workers going abroad for employment has declined by 75 percent. 

“Except for those who have already obtained visas from abroad or those who may face visa cancellations in case they failed to go to their foreign work destinations, all others have cancelled their visits,” said Dahal. “Many have refused to go abroad thinking employment is not more important than life.”

The deadly coronavirus has spread in several labor destinations including South Korea, Japan, Qatar and Malaysia.

On an average 1,000 migrant workers used to leave the country per day before the COVID-19 outbreak. But the number of outbound migrant workers has decreased significantly after the virus spread to more than 90 countries.

Only about 300 Nepalis are leaving for foreign employment daily these days. “Compared to the previous years, only 25 percent are going abroad these days,” said Dahal. 

Although the government has not officially imposed a ban on outbound migrant workers, they have voluntarily stopped going there due to coronavirus fear.

General Secretary of the Nepal Association of Foreign Employment Agencies Sujit Kumar Shrestha said they are not receiving any demand from the labor destinations. “Some countries including Kuwait have stopped receiving workers from any sending countries,” said Shrestha.

Malaysia and Saudi Arabia are major labor destinations for Nepali migrant workers. As per the Department of Foreign Employment (DoFE), some 1.3 million migrant workers have gone to Malaysia, while about 900,000 Nepali workers are in Saudi Arabia. Gulf countries alone receive 95 percent of the total 500,000 Nepali migrant workers leaving Nepal each year.

Remittances sent by workers are equal to nearly 30 percent of Nepal’s GDP, according to the reports of the Ministry of Finance.

Economists have warned of serious economic crisis if the migrant workers continued to refuse to go to labor destinations or the receiving countries continue to stop receiving the migrant workers from Nepal.

“It may not be a big challenge if the problem does not prolong,” said former finance Secretary Rameshore Khanal adding, “But remittances will decrease if the problem is not settled until April.”

In fiscal year 2075/76, migrant workers had sent Rs 8.79 trillion in remittances whereas the trade deficit of the country stood at Rs 13.21 trillion.

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