Chandan Kumar Mandal
To stem the illegal flow of Nepali migrant workers to foreign countries on visit visas, the government has proposed some changes in its labour migration laws, which includes English language communication capacity for travellers.
In the last several weeks, there has been an unprecedented increase in the number of Nepalis going abroad on visit visas allegedly to stay there as undocumented workers.
This trend caught the attention of various law enforcement agencies and raised alarm. The concerned government bodies are now considering some changes in the migration rules to discourage the people who try to leave the country for overseas jobs by dodging the labour migration laws.
Among several changes proposed by the Department of Immigration in the labour migration laws is mandatory English language communication proficiency, a rule that is already being criticised by some labour migration experts.
The proposed requirement for passengers to exhibit some level of English communication capacity might have been proposed with a sincere intention but it lacks logic, and it may not yield the expected results, experts say.
“The rule sounds as if those without the knowledge of English language cannot travel abroad,” said Jeevan Baniya, assistant director at Centre for the Study of Labour and Mobility.
He noted that it was against the constitution to restrict an individual’s right to free movement.
“Telling someone not to travel because they cannot communicate well in English is plain irrational.”
Ramesh Kumar KC, director general of Department of Immigration, said while they expected some level of English language fluency for passengers visiting abroad, the English requirement law was not at all intended to trample on an individual’s right to movement.
“We have been hearing that people have been flying abroad on visit visas so that they could work there. We have been trying to make some changes in the laws to make the process stricter, safer and well-managed,” KC told the Post.
“In a difficult situation, the government can make some changes with the view of protecting its citizens.”
KC added changes to the existing Immigration Procedures, 2008 have been proposed in order to check the trend of people flying abroad on visit visas with the intention of working there.
Rameshwar Nepal, South Asia director of Equidem Research, a UK-based human rights research organisation, said the proposed changes in migration laws intended at curtailing the incidents of fraud and malpractice still needed some finetuning.
“The intention seems right. But if the government were to impose the English language law, then only a few thousands might be able to go abroad,” Nepal said. “Such a law could also drive people to travel via India to reach the labour destination countries of their desire, which could invite more problems.”
KC, director general of the Department of Immigration, however, contended that English language skill was not the only deciding factor.
“We only expect for a person to at least say where they are going as it has been found that several passengers didn’t even know about the destination country,” KC told the Post. “Knowledge of English is not a compulsory rule. If a person who cannot communicate in English is travelling with a family member who can, then it does not mean that the person won’t be allowed to fly.”
Besides English language skill, the Department of Immigration has also proposed that anyone visiting abroad on a visit visa must have an insurance scheme of Rs 2 million and prove their relations with the relatives they are visiting abroad.
As of now, a person going abroad on a visit visa only needed a valid visa, two-way tickets, accommodation arrangements and currency equivalent to US$1,000 as travel expenses.
The immigration department is currently deliberating on the changes to be made in the Immigration Procedures, 2008 and it is expected to be finalised within a couple of weeks.
Labour migration experts say the use of visit visas to send people abroad for jobs is a practice that is by and large associated with foreign employment agencies and that the government should introduce laws to regulate and monitor dishonest agencies rather than individuals.
“The so-called airport setting, where workers are sent abroad on visit visas in collusion with immigration officers, airport staff and recruitment agencies, is a known issue in the foreign employment sector. The government has formed task forces to investigate this issue and several lawmakers and ministers have talked on the record about the prevalence of this collusion,” said Nepal of the Equidem Research. “When these cases are recorded, the government authorities should prosecute the concerned recruitment agencies who exploit innocent and desperate workers who could not find jobs at home.”
Only recently, the Department of Foreign Employment raided several recruiting agencies and seized hundreds of passports of aspirant migrant workers who were reportedly being sent to the Gulf countries on visit visas.
While the incident may have spurred the Department of Immigration to propose changes in the Immigration Procedures, 2008, labour migration experts say that before proposing changes in the law, the concerned government agencies should have investigated why many Nepali citizens are using visit visas to go abroad for work and who is facilitating their movement.
Baniya, the assistant director at the Centre for the Study of Labour and Mobility, said many people are desperate to go abroad for jobs due to the lack of employment opportunities at home and the situation has gone worse because of the Covid-19 pandemic.
“For several months, workers have not been able to go on foreign employment and are now desperate to migrate as labour migration has finally resumed. Even recruiting agencies are under financial pressure to do their business, so in this rush, they are luring unwitting clients and trying to send them abroad for jobs on visit visas,” he said.
Baniya added, “The government should rather effectively monitor those agencies which facilitate such illegal migration of workers.”
Published on: 10 December 2020 | The Kathmandu Post