Five months later, he is back in Ahmedabad with the same employer despite the Covid-19 crisis in India. On the phone this week, he asked us rhetorically: “How will my family survive if I don’t migrate?
Migration is inevitable, so we have to manage it better. There is a whole checklist of things to do, and a lot of it begins at home:
– Ensure a clean and transparent process
– Reduce the economic burden of recruitment
– Upscale vocational and pre-departure training
– Eliminate bureaucratic hassles and fees
– Control extortion and corruption every step of the way
– Sign bilateral labour agreements and implement them
– Prompt help by embassies to workers in need
– Soft loans for business development of returnees
– Invest in mass-job creation at home
All this is not going to happen overnight. Demographic shifts worldwide, salary differences and aspirations of youth are real. Even as Nepal develops, its youth gets better education, the push factors for migration will continue to grow.
The destination may change from India to Qatar, or Qatar to the UK, but it is all mobility nonetheless. The choice ahead of Nepal is not whether we can curb migration (we cannot) but how we can benefit from this phenomenon while giving the youth attractive economic opportunities back home so that deciding to stay is not an unusual choice.
As 2020 draws to a close, we must also ponder how the pandemic did not just limit outmigration but also prevented Nepalis from coming back home. The inaction has been stunning. The Labour Minister was AWOL. Repatriation flights were a mess, with flip-flopping rules, lack of information for workers in limbo. When flights did resume in July, the government could not decide who should benefit from airfare support – undocumented workers were not eligible for the ticket scheme when they are the ones who needed the help the most. Many Nepali workers overseas did not even bother to register to return, preferring to hold on to the jobs they had, even when wages and hours were not ideal.
Through all this, remittances defied expectations and continued to hold strong. Nepal’s migrant workers contributed directly (by engaging in critical essential work in host countries) or indirectly (by sending remittances to Nepal). International Migrants Day celebrates their sacrifices, but we need to do much more than just appreciate them.