Nepal starts maintaining data on returning migrant workers

Chandan Kumar Mandal

After more than two decades of collecting data on outbound Nepali workers for employment, the country has now started maintaining data on the returning migrant workers.

The gathering of data on Nepali citizens, who have been to foreign countries and returned home after completing their term, has finally become possible after installation of ‘Nepali Port’—a software at the Immigration Office of the Tribhuvan International Airport.

The newly introduced software has also been linked to the Foreign Employment Information Management System (FEIMS), an integrated online platform where all the major stakeholders of labour migration are interconnected and share details.

With the introduction of the Nepali Port, the Department of Foreign Employment will share and integrate its data with the Department of Immigration, according to Bhisma Kumar Bhushal, director general of the Foreign Employment Department.

“Integration and sharing of data from these two platforms will generate data on the number of Nepalis going abroad or returning home, irrespective of their purpose of visit,” Bhusal told the Post. “Finally, we will be able to have actual figures on the number of Nepalis currently working abroad and those who have returned.”

As matters stand, the Immigration Desk setup at the airport will check all the required documents carried by the outbound migrant workers via the Nepali Port. For many years, Nepali officials and all the stakeholders have been saying that more than 4.5 million Nepali people are working as migrant workers, portraying an inflated picture of the country’s labour migration.

In reality, there is no substantial data on the number of Nepalis currently working in labour destination countries since the government has only the data on work-permits issued to the migrant workers.

According to Foreign Employment Department data, it has issued nearly 6.3 million labour permits—a government permit required before going on foreign employment—since April 29, 2000. But these data do not reveal the complete picture as it only counts labour permits—which can be issued to the same migrant worker every time they go on foreign employment—meaning the same individual can be counted again and again.
“Nepali citizens are going abroad on a different category of visa. The new system will record that they went to work,” said Bhusal. “Also, we will have information on the history of the migrant workers when they departed and when they returned.”
The authority also hopes that the new system of gathering data on migrant workers departures and arrivals will help in fighting against illegal activities and malpractices prevalent in the foreign employment sector.

On many occasions, Nepali citizens are travelling on business or tourist visa while trying to land in countries banned by the government and end up as victims of human trafficking.

According to labour migration experts, the new system will produce reliable data on labour migrations.

“There are currently two methods of keeping data on migrants—new labour permits and re-entry labour permits, which did not show the whole picture,” said Jeevan Baniya, the assistant director of Centre for the Study of Labour and Mobility (CESLAM) at Social Science Baha. “However, the latest system will give out more accurate data and also reveal how these workers are migrating through legal routes.”

A study done by CESLAM on returning women migrant workers found that 30 to 50 percent of them had migrated using irregular channels, mainly using Indian airports. While the government had no data on returning migrant workers, it also lacked information on the accurate number on Nepalis living and working in a particular country.

“As the number of returnee workers was unaccounted for, we had no idea about the total number of people, even in major labour destination countries,” said Baniya. “The government agencies and diplomatic agencies were unaware of their status, working conditions, whether they were paid on time...things that made them more vulnerable.”

Gathering of improved data can also help in framing suitable policies targeting returning migrant workers by introducing programmes for their rehabilitation and reintegration that has now become the responsibility of the local levels. According to Baniya, such data can also be useful for framing other policies beyond labour migration.

“But, we have to know the purpose of collecting information and how the gathered information can further be segregated,” said Baniya. “It should also collect information on other indexes like their work experience and skills.”

Published on: 31 January 2020 | The Kathmandu Post

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