Migration As Path To Progress
Dev Raj Dahal
Migration is an ancient art of human adaptation. It has now become a global development issue. Almost 3 per cent of world’s people are on the move to get better life. The rules of many developed nations rule out migrant workers while cheer easy trans-border mobility of knowledge, capital, technology and goods. This has skewed global development curve. Poor nations reap demographic dividends but also suffer brain drain of their critical masses. Rich ones have capital surplus but they bear the burden of aging population. Centralisation of power, resources and opportunities in the urban nodes of poor nations has triggered an amazing intensity of mass migration of people from rural to urban areas and even out migration to feed their families. The input of remittance to the world economy is swinging upward. Globalisation of sustainable development and the need for people, firms and nation-states to connect and collaborate for a new social contract entail the virtue of healthy interdependence.
Migrants are the drivers of entrepreneurship. Push-led migration is propelled by disincentives: widespread poverty, unemployment, food insecurity, growing violence and trafficking especially of girl child and women due to the expansion of ungoverned space. Weak state, physical insecurity and laxity in law and order turned the workers easy prey to thugs and criminals and anti-migrant emotion fed by the declining job prospects for native workers. The pull-led migration drive the imagination of better job opportunities, income, working condition, health, vocational training facilities, information, exposure and social recognition. Safe migration cuts the gaps of land-population ratio and income gaps. It plows productive cooperation between labour sending and labour receiving nations for decent work and wage. Migrants also learn social technologies-skill demand of modern economy, enterprise and innovation. They are predisposed to buffering or absorbing new culture and practices. Still, migration is hit by supply-demand disparity. It is used as political stress-containing tactic. The population explosion in poor nations does not match with the ability of their national labour market and labour receiving countries to absorb to prevent a race to the bottom. Its resilience demands certain complementarities.
Nepali state’s capacity to regulate the border and execute all the rights of citizens is very feeble. The tiny size of its formal economy leaves 90 per cent of its 15.6 million workforce to engage in informal sector where social security is feeble. To cut its poverty rate of 28 per cent and unemployment of 42 per cent and reduce unsustainable burden on economy, the Nepali government has opened over hundred nations for employment birthing over 400 manpower companies to send workers abroad. The swelling of recruiting agencies as a new business will grow in the provinces with the federal government’s consent. Promulgation of Foreign Employment Act and set up of Department of Labour and Foreign Employment Promotion Board offer institutional muscle to facilitate the migration.
Each year over 450,000 youth enter into its shrinking labour market out of which 350,000 migrate to different labour destinations. Out of about 6 million Nepalis working abroad, women’s share is less than 10 per cent. As per National Plan of Action for safe migration, the government is seeking to have MOU to all the nations employing more than 10,000 Nepalis. The Ministry of Labour and Employment has set few conditions for domestic workers: set up of recreational centres, payment of salary via bank, zero-cost for recruitment, free air ticket and visa, specific working hours and rest of 8 hours, salary of $300, access to information, privacy of workers, etc. Those highly skilled working in advanced countries earn better, well-connected and hold leverage in other areas of life. Granting of voting rights to migrants can lure politicians’ interest in their welfare.
In many nations, Nepali migrant workers do not have any agency to protect their labour rights though they bring over $6.56 billion in remittance last fiscal year. It has given life to rural economy, contributes 28 per cent to GDP, earning foreign currency and supports macroeconomic balance. Ironically, remittance has bred consumerism, import of foreign goods, support huge trade imbalance and subsidise huge size of politicians’ race to the top. In Nepal import is 17 times higher than exports. Heavy reliance on import, remittance, foreign aid and pathetic state of development expenditure turn its economy exceedingly dependent dispiriting native production of both agricultural and industrial goods. Nepal has signed labour pacts and understanding with Japan, Kuwait, Qatar, Bahrain, United Arab Emirates, Israel, Malaysia, South Korea, etc. providing workers relatively better employment opportunity, security and safety.
Ironically, migration of dynamic youth force for jobs abroad has caused the scarcity of agricultural workers, decline of food production and delayed post-quake reconstruction. Growth of urban life, migration, family atomisation, swelling divorce rate and social fractures infect Nepal’s fast adaptive capacity and anchorage of healthy community bound by trust. In many cases, migrants have no control over the money they send to their families. Sometimes, their children are spoiled by poor education, drug abuse and crime.
Poverty reflects unjust order. Those at the bottom of pyramid are governed by necessity rather than choice. Proper harnessing of national resources can add to equitable economic growth vital to alleviate scarcity, reduce ecocide and social disparity and keep the balance of upward and outside integration of economy and downward benefits to the people. The symbiosis of humanitarian laws and moral obligation of the Nepali polity to tax the wealthy to finance social security can impel social cohesion. International regimes need to protect their rights from various vulnerabilities.
Labour is life. Internal expansion of labour market can trim down the social cost of migration and add to good governance. Life-long education to workers can reduce false hope for better job. Nepal’s chiefly remittance-driven economy has to see its tearful human cost to the parents, children, society, economy and the nation which set mind whining. It breaks the heart of old people to import 1,500 dead bodies of their offspring every year considered as safety net. Many suffer due on illegal entry by manpower companies, torture, slavery, work without pay, exploitation of women and the problem of acclimatisation of workers to workplace. The annual illegal human trafficking stands 7 to 12 thousands to India, Africa and Latin American nations. It is vital to make foreign employment safer and more decent for both men and women.
For Nepal remittance has become an inescapable choice. The size of remittance flow through the formal channel is bigger than Foreign Direct Investment, Official Development Assistance, tax and tourism. The flow through informal conduit is hard to guess. Nepali government need to collaborate with civil society to protect its workers in the sending, transit and receiving stations. Inclusion of disabled socially stigmatised and addressing the health of migrant workers is vital to enlarge public sphere and avert cursing their luck.
Informal sector workers do not have strong political agencies to demand for social security, protection and safety nets. Those workers without formal contracts face many troubles such as low pay, overwork, passport seizure by companies, unsafe working conditions, workplace harassment, sexual abuse of women, torture, kidnapping and even exposed to terrorist attack. Likewise, low wages, long working hours, lack of social security, deceptive visa practices, etc. cut choices. Workers in the Gulf region unveil news about these social ills while in Afghanistan and Iraq they are target of armed non-state actors. Workers from rural areas should be cautioned about the misguidance by the recruiting agents as latter force them to work in not mutually agreed jobs.
The effects of rising migration of youth abroad on political and social life of the nation have not been well analysed. The duty of democratic leadership is to transform Nepali people into citizens with a deep sense of love to the nation, not rootless slave, servants, workers and consumers set to be driven to any destination against their voice and choice. Given South Asia’s focus on connectivity and economic integration, it is time to address the problems of migrant workers abroad, analyse domestic barriers, develop policy coordination with the regional countries and build their leverage to attain core labour standards. Only a caring society is the hallmark of civilisation which can create a great human potential to build shared aspiration for a democratic life.
As signatories to social charter and a variety of international human rights, the South Asian nations can work together to protect people facing vulnerabilities and risks. The social charter presumes the welfare of the marginalised and vulnerable. National efforts on study about the status of migration, engagement of the stakeholders in policy advocacy to mitigate their problems and lobby for institutional solution by fostering their rights, safety and easy transfer of the remittance money are vital. This builds the linkage of economic growth, social protection, citizenship and community, not tribal fear of each other.
Nepal has deployed labour attaché in some countries to look after the rights of Nepali workers to optimise return on human capital. But, some of its embassies are understaffed and under resourced. It demands collaboration with global civil society. Nepal has set up Foreign Employment Welfare Fund, National Welfare Fund and Social Security Fund. Still, it has yet to optimise the benefits of remittance economy and minimise the social costs through laws on workers protection, establishment of proper institutional and regulatory framework, language and skill training for the migrants, signing of bilateral agreement for decent work, pro-active role of Nepali embassies and consulates, reduction of transaction cost in the money transfer, etc. are vital policy tools.