Nepal’s foreign employment department on Sunday issued a notice urging people not to believe or pay any individuals who claim to send people for seasonal work abroad.
The notice comes nearly a year after South Korea stopped hiring Nepali workers for seasonal work and more than a month after the seasonal workers' scheme operators in the United Kingdom said they would not be hiring from Nepal this year.
The UK government started the pilot scheme in March 2019 to hire seasonal workers following a severe farmhand shortage.
South Korea passed legislation to create a new visa, allowing a stay of up to five months for foreign workers in the agriculture and fisheries sector in the same year.
Seasonal work in the horticulture sector in the UK consists of picking fruits, vegetables and flowers for six months.
From 2019 to 2021, the UK government initiated a pilot programme to provide temporary visas for seasonal work in the horticulture sector, according to Nepal Labour Migration Report 2022.
The seasonal worker visa scheme was introduced in 2022, allowing entry into the UK for up to six months.
The scheme has been extended until 2024.
According to a notice published by the UK government, 45,000 visas are available in the horticulture sector this year.
1,124 Nepalis received UK visas for temporary work from 2019 to the first quarter of 2022, putting the country in the second spot after India among South Asian countries, the report said.
According to the UK’s Home Office immigration statistics, 2,072 Nepalis got seasonal work visas in the first half of 2022, as compared to 456, in the same period in 2021.
However, the UK farms decided not to hire workers from Nepal citing the exorbitant recruitment fees many workers had to pay to secure jobs and their high absconding rates.
Observers say Nepali authorities have failed to capitalise on seasonal work opportunities.
For months, the authorities were least concerned about how the Nepalis were getting the seasonal jobs, how much they were paying in recruitment fees or their living and working conditions abroad.
Unlicensed agents jumped in to charge aspiring workers hefty amounts in illegal recruitment fees.
People created a number of groups and pages on Facebook to share information on seasonal work schemes.
The Nepal Embassy in London had to issue a notice on January 5 to clarify that fake information through an unauthorised use of the embassy’s letterhead and signature regarding the seasonal visa, was being circulated.
For seasonal work in the UK, workers have to pay around Rs41,013 (259 pounds) as an application fee, besides, spending for their visa and a two-way ticket.
However, the scheme became controversial last year after multiple reports of workers paying exorbitant recruitment fees to secure jobs. The workers were also not being provided employment for the entire six month period.
An unnamed Nepali worker recruited by AG Recruitment and Management told the Post that some of his fellow workers had paid as much as Rs1.2 million to Nepali middlemen to get the job.
AG Recruitment lost its seasonal worker sponsor licence last month.
“Illegal recruitment fees, high absconder rate in the last season, poor coordination and lack of support from Nepal government are some of the major reasons for stopping the recruitments from Nepal,” David Camp, chairman of the Association of Labour Providers, earlier told the Post in an email.
Jeevan Baniya, assistant director at the Centre for Study of Labour and Mobility, Social Science Baha, a research institution, said that the Nepali authorities did not act in time to reap optimum benefits from the seasonal work schemes.
“In the case of South Korea, the local governments sent some workers by establishing a sister-city relationship with a certain city in South Korea. But the federal government stopped it,” said Baniya.
The Ministry of Federal Affairs and General Administration issued a circular prohibiting local units from sending temporary farm workers to South Korea in June 2022.
The government in December last year brought the Seasonal Workers Management Working Guideline 2022 which permits the local level to select suitable candidates and send them to work temporarily in foreign countries.
Baniya, however, argues it was a bit too late. “We need to be more careful in formulating policies.”
The guidelines envision sending individuals for seasonal work under a 'zero cost' scheme through a government initiative.
“The visa will be for a year at most,” Rajeev Pokharel, joint secretary at the Ministry of Labour, Employment and Social Security, told the Post in a recent interview. "Local governments have been given the authority to select and recruit workers. They will make their own guidelines to carry out the recruitment process.”
There are concerns if it is appropriate to give the local government this role.
The Department of Foreign Employment in its notice said that it has been receiving complaints of fake information published on social media claiming to send seasonal workers, especially to South Korea.
“We have also been informed about some people collecting money by disseminating misleading information. We have implemented the zero-cost recruitment fee for seasonal workers,” according to one government official.
Krishna Prasad Bhusal, information officer at the Department of Foreign Employment, said issues like Nepali workers leaving their jobs and overstaying in the destination countries have surfaced. “It was because of this reason that South Korea stopped hiring from Nepal.”
JoongAng Daily reported in October last year that nearly 20,000 foreigners who came to South Korea to work on farms or in fishing villages overstayed.
The Korea Herald reported in July last year that more than half the foreigners who had come to the country as seasonal farm workers in 2021 left their workplaces in violation of their contracts.
Published on: 2 March 2023 | The Kathmandu Post