Reintegration programme for migrant workers awaits implementation

Pawan Pandey

A reintegration programme for returning migrant workers is yet to be implemented almost four months since it was launched.

The programme will support the reintegration of returnee migrant workers in the community to ensure that they benefit fully from their foreign experience.

Returning migrants may experience a wide variety of problems, ranging from unemployment assistance and lack of savings to psychosocial trauma, that have to be addressed.

Executive Director Dwarika Upreti of the Foreign Employment Board, who heads the coordination committee formed to conduct the programme, said they have been working to allocate budget to the local units to implement the programmes.

“The programme has been prepared, but it might take one and a half months before it is started,” said Upreti. A public notice will be issued at the local units before it is rolled out.

As part of the programme, returnees will be provided with jobs or entrepreneurial opportunities depending on their skills and interests. They will also be given psychosocial counselling.

But experts doubt the programme will be effective. Bangladesh and several other countries have conducted similar schemes.

“In Nepal, there is no effective reintegration programme,” said Meena Poudel, a migration researcher. “The returnees, individually or in groups, have been operating various businesses like homestay and commercial farming to earn their living.”

In the last fiscal year, Nepal received Rs1 trillion in remittance from migrant workers. Remittance has become a lifeline for the country’s economy, but the migrants who have spent their entire youth abroad and sent money back to the country have to struggle to reintegrate financially and socially when they return.

“The existing laws and regulations on labour migration are remittance-centric. There are no effective policies to reintegrate the workers when they decide to come home and live with their families,” said Poudel.

“Though the government is trying to implement the reintegration policy, the implementation will be difficult in the absence of an integrated migration policy,” she said.

“Any programme which lacks a comprehensive policy to organise the labour migration sector will be ineffective.”

An integrated migration policy means foreign policy, economic policy, trafficking-related policy, foreign employment policy and immigration law all working together with the common goal of benefiting migrant workers, experts said.

According to the Economic Survey 2016-17, the estimated number of Nepali migrants working abroad, except in India, is 2.8 million.

Industry insiders say that the actual number is higher as many have been going for foreign employment through illegal channels, and they remain undocumented.

Purna Chandra Bhattarai, a former government secretary, said the existing labour migration policies talk about the issue of reintegration, but it has not received the greater attention it deserves.

"Though government officials accept the need for an integrated migration policy, there has neither been any institutional support nor any efforts towards creating one," said Poudel.

As per Bhattarai, some local units have carried out reintegration programmes but they remain unknown.

A few countries have shown interest in conducting reintegration programmes in Nepal.

Thaneshwar Bhusal, deputy spokesperson for the Ministry of Labour, Employment and Social Security, said Japan and South Korea wished to carry out reintegration programmes in Nepal.

“We want more labour-hosting countries to invest in such programmes,” he said.

Last June, Nepal and Switzerland signed an agreement to implement the Reintegration of Returnee Migrant Workers project in 20 local units of Province 1 and Madhesh province.

The four-year programme started in July. According to a joint press statement, the project will spend Swiss franc 6.8 million (Rs861.3 million).

The project seeks to help workers returning from foreign employment re-establish themselves in Nepal and actively participate in social, cultural, economic and political life.

Some have raised questions about accepting foreign assistance in the migration sector.

Jeevan Baniya, a migration researcher, points to lack of clarity in some fundamental issues in the directive about the ownership of the programme and its implementation.

“The directive has provisioned a top-down approach when it should have been the other way around. Along with the authority to implement the project, the local units should have been given the authority to design the schemes and allocate the budget,” said Baniya.

"Instead of carrying out a few small-scale projects, all three tiers of government must work together in an integrated way to make a meaningful impact," he said.

Lack of statistics regarding the number of returnees and their experiences and skills can also be a hindrance to formulating effective programmes under the directive, researchers say.

“It is difficult to expect local units to keep records of returnees. This is not being done at the airports and border points during their return,” said Poudel.

Bhusal said that past reintegration efforts had been a failure, but hoped the new directive would change the scenario to some extent.

"A number of case studies have shown that most young migrant workers plan on working abroad for about a decade and returning to Nepal. But poverty caused by lack of employment or entrepreneurial opportunities at home compel them to go abroad again," said Bhusal.

“The fact that we are not able to provide an environment for returnees to live a dignified life shows that our reintegration policy has failed,” Bhusal said. “We hope the new directive will help the policy to succeed." 

Published on: 6 November 2022 | The Kathmandu Post


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