Nepali caregivers sit for Israel job exams

More than 7,000 Nepali migrant workers sat for an English exam on Monday for openings in 1,000 caregiver jobs in Israel.

More than 7,000 Nepalis sat for English language exams at 16 test centres across Kathmandu on Monday. No, this was not a college exam, but one to determine eligibility for 1,000 caregiver jobs in Israel.

The tests are part of a selection process under an agreement between the governments of Israel and Nepal in September 2020, and an implementation protocol signed in January.

The program initially targeted 500 caregivers, but was later expanded to 1,000, and 70% of the openings are meant for women with salaries of as much as $1,600 per month governed by Israel’s strong labour laws.

Over 26,500 people initially created user IDs in the online application for the openings, but only 7,009 completed the application process and were eligible for the exam. Although 70% of jobs are set aside for women, Dambar Bahadur Sunuwar of the Department of Foreign Employment (DoFE) said that only 47% of the test takers were female.

Many of the candidates and their families waiting for the exams at Durbar High School in Kathmandu appeared nervous not just about the exam, which will be competitive, but about whether the process is fair.

“It is all luck and hopefully luck will favour us,” said the husband of a woman waiting to give her exam. “In a country where everything is driven by ‘settings’, we are worried that Israel will not be an exception. All we can do is try our luck and give the exams, with the hope that it will be fair.”

Test takers and families outside Darbar High School in Kathmandu, one of the 16 exam centres.

Another applicant, who also did not want her name used, says she wants the process to be merit based since her family cannot afford high recruitment costs. “We are cautiously optimistic that the selection process will be fair,” she shrugged.

She is a mother herself, has been taking care of her mother-in-law in Nepal, and feels she has the right experience to be a caregiver in Israel in addition to the formal training she took. “I will still be taking care of others, the only difference is that in Israel they will pay me,” she said.

Sunuwar says the DoFE has taken measures to ensure the process will be conducted fairly and in a transparent way, and used the directive for the civil service exam as the basis for this test.

“To minimise interference and curb any cheating, we created a Foreign Employment Recruitment Management System so all documents were submitted online and details regarding exams and interviews are also being shared online,” Sunwar told Nepali Times. “It will be conducted fairly and we once again urge migrants not to fall for intermediaries who approach them with false promises.”

There will be 2,000 applicants shortlisted for the interview round, and Israel will chose 1,000 candidates from among 1,400 names forwarded by the DoFe.

Despite these assurances, and given past experience, migrant family members waiting outside Durbar High School had misgivings about the process.

“For those of us without insider connections, our worst fear is that this exam and the interview were just for show and everything is pre-determined to a select group of people who have the resources and networks,” said one waiting family member. “We have invested money and time for the preparation, with the hope that it will be carried out fairly. That is all we can do. Let us wait and see.”

Earlier this year, the Israel agreement faced criticism for setting a $1,600 upfront recruitment cost to be borne by the migrant workers before they leave Nepal, most of it on airfare. Critics slammed the agreement for not following the employer pays principle.

Government authorities have defended the fee. Nepal’s ambassador to Israel, Anjana Shakya says the pre-departure costs will be much less than Rs167,000 because the air fare is not going to be as much.

“It will be up to the worker to choose the airfare that is cheapest for them,” she told Nepali Times from Tel Aviv. DOFE also agrees that the cost is only an upward estimate, and will probably be less.

Apart from waiving visa costs, Israel has not agreed to Nepal’s request for employers to pay recruitment costs such as airfare. But Israel has a zero-tolerance policy for illegal recruitment costs, which was one of the reasons it had banned Nepali migrant workers in the past.

It is the illegal costs under ‘settings’ that many migrant workers are worried about rather than the required expenses because they want merit and performance in the exams to determine their selection for an already very competitive given the limited quota.

These fears are further heightened by social media and conversations in Israel exam preparatory classrooms where migrants are told that quotas are pre-determined, fueling fears about the selection process being unfair. Some reported being approached by agents outside training centres offering guaranteed placement in Israel if they paid up to Rs1.1 million because they had connections in high places.

Nepali migrant workers sitting for mock tests earlier this year.

Nepali Times also met up with migrants who said they have little faith in the system and are willing to pay because “money makes more money”.

“I am ready to pay up to Rs120,000 for a job in Israel, but only if I am given a receipt and guaranteed the job. Even if there is cost to getting the job, it will be worthwhile because I can recuperate the costs within the first year, and send money home to my family,” says one migrant worker.

Nepal's Ambassador to Israel Anjana Shakya signs the bilateral agreement to recruit 1,000 Nepali caregivers to Israel.

After the exam, a relieved migrant worker said: “The exam went okay but could have been better. I am not sure if I will be selected for the interview round, perhaps yes, if it is fair.”

She is applying for the job in Israel because her clothing business failed, but would have stayed on in Nepal and invested in her trade if she had the Rs100,000 that some of the others were willing to pay for the job. If she passes the test, she will be one of the 2,000 who will move on to the interview round. Of them, 1,400 will be selected and this roster will be shared with the Israeli side for the final quota of 1,000 workers.

In 2009, Israel stopped recruiting Nepalis after migrant workers were found to be paying hefty fees to recruiters for lucrative job opportunities. It was reopened in 2015 under a pilot Nepal-Israel government-to-government agreement that was not able to send even the 250 workers as agreed.

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