This calls for a more strategic approach to bring real change alongside non-binding, soft commitments, or moral agreements on zero-cost migration that get all the media attention. Another unintended consequence of focusing only on the principle of no-cost migration is that more practical solutions may be disregarded.
One of the biggest downsides of financing recruitment costs for Nepali workers is that they are slapped hefty interests by informal lenders that add up significantly. Financing collateral free, low interest loans, as was implemented by DfID in Province 2 before the lockdown, is an example of a more practical short-term approach to ease the burden on migrants.
Is it fair to deprive them of low cost financing solutions knowing that workers are paying to go abroad regardless of whether it is to a country with which we have signed a zero-cost pact or not,
Nepal’s well-intentioned policies have failed to deliver, but anyone who cares about migrant welfare will champion the employer pays principle. The bosses of migrants, often migrants themselves but referred to as ‘expats’ for being in a higher position, are not only exempted from recruitment costs but also get compensated for relocation. It is counterintuitive that those in the lowest rungs of the ladder who cannot afford the costs are being made to borrow to pay exorbitant fees just to get the jobs.
Nepal’s implementation capability and whether policies are practical in the current context, the incentives for those involved, regional dynamics, and the diverse situation of worker treatment across countries, all have to be taken into account.
Turning this aspiration to reality is a long game, and we would be remiss to disregard a whole range of shorter-term, practical alternatives en route.