It can cost from $800-$2,000 for institutional quarantine in Qatar depending on the standard of facilities, and many employers are reluctant to cover these expenses which get passed down to workers.
“The only way out is widespread vaccination, but at the rate we are progressing, I do not see the foreign employment sector recovering anytime soon,” Pokharel says.
Quarantine costs are about $1,000 in Saudi Arabia as well. “Employers are required to foot the bill and have to commit in writing in the job demand approval letter that they will bear the costs of quarantine. The Saudi authorities will also notify employers regarding this rule,” says Nepali Labour Attaché Prem Upadhaya at the Consulate in Jeddah.
However, given that workers are desperate it is likely that they will pay for it covertly, no matter how high the cost, or how inconvenient.
The rules on quarantine and vaccines do not just involve Nepali workers, and other countries face the same problem.
In response, the Philippines has put its overseas contract workers in the ‘essential’ category alongside health staff which moves them up in the vaccination priority list.
Bangladesh will prioritise workers heading to Kuwait and Saudi Arabia for the Pfizer vaccines that it received as part of the global COVAX initiative. It is set to receive 2 million doses of the Moderna vaccine from the United States through COVAX. The country also has a scheme to reimburse quarantine costs of workers to Saudi Arabia.
In Pakistan, Saudi-bound expats broke into a vaccination centre in Islamabad after fears that the AstraZaneca vaccines would run out. Prime Minister Imran Khan has asked Saudi Arabia and other countries to accept the WHO-approved Chinese vaccine with which Pakistan is inoculating its population.
Sri Lanka has also announced free vaccines for those with confirmed overseas jobs, but is also dependent on the Sinopharm Chinese vaccine, which is not accepted by key destination countries.
In India, many migrant workers are stranded because their vaccine certificates refer to Covishield, and not Oxford AstraZeneca. However, Saudi Arabia finally recognised Covishield as equivalent to AstraZeneca after diplomatic dialogue. Vaccination camps have been set up for outgoing students and workers, although demand far outweighs supply.
In Nepal, however, there is growing frustration with the lack of progress in sourcing vaccines. Says Sujit Shrestha of NAFEA (Nepal Association of Foreign Employment Agencies): “We need a way out because there is demand in these countries for Nepali workers. The government should get vaccines and prioritise outgoing workers, or coordinate with destination countries to provide quarantine and vaccines for workers. For many Nepali families, foreign employment is the only source of income.”
After a few months of slow and uneven recovery of emigration, the second wave impacted both new and current Nepali workers. But even with cases falling and limited flights allowed, there is uncertainty because of the vaccines.
It is not just about whether Nepal can inoculate outgoing workers soon, but also whether the vaccination provided is accepted by the destination country.
Saudi Arabia has a demand for 40,000 Nepali workers that are waiting to be filled. In Kuwait, employers are struggling with labour shortages. This is in addition to thousands stranded in Nepal while on holiday like Min and Lila, who are at risk of losing their jobs overseas.
Says Kuwait-based Nepali Ram Bahadur Basnet: “If flights normalise and the issue of vaccinations gets sorted out, Nepalis will be able to find attractive opportunities here.”
Some names have been changed. Additional reporting by Hom Nath Giri.