Managing Migration For Development: Dr. Lok Nath Bhusal

As countries continue to export/send more and more of their citizens to foreign countries for work and the associated remittance incomes they make, the issue of migration governance has become a priority agenda in the national development debate. Given its growing economic might in the national economy and society, ensuring good migration governance has now become an integral part of national prosperity in the short, medium and also in the long-term through the productive utilisation of remittances.


Better management

According to the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), in 2015, 244 million people, or 3.3 per cent of the world's population, lived outside their country of origin, and the majority of migrants cross borders in search of better economic and social opportunities. Depending on their country of origin and country of destination, they enjoy or undergo different types of facilities or hardships in their efforts to migrate. This is because of the varying nature and degree of labour governance at home and abroad. Considering their contribution to the home economy and society, better management of migration for development around the globe has been a responsibility of all state actors.


Data demonstrate that migration has increasingly become a crucial factor of the Nepalese economy. Formal and informal estimates suggest that about five million Nepalese are currently working abroad. This accounts for slightly over 15 per cent of our population (fives times more than the global average) and more than one third of our labour force. Official data further reveal that out of the half a million youths entering the labour market each year, only 50,000 get gainful employment opportunities at home. This is precisely why about 1,500 Nepalese youths leave Nepal for work abroad on a daily basis. Due to the disruption of economic activities by the recent earthquake and Terai unrest, the migrant outflow will certainly increase.


Migrant workers' contribution to our economy and society has become increasingly enormous. Currently, migrant remittances contribute about 30 per cent to the Gross Domestic Product (GDP), and this has been increasing over the years. The amount is about seven billion dollars annually and is comparable with our annual budget and trade deficit. Estimates also suggest that 60-70 per cent of our households send their members abroad for work. The latest Nepal Living Standard Survey has claimed that remittances have been the most prominent factor behind the significant reduction in absolute poverty in the country.


Recognising this economic contribution, the government of Nepal has brought some significant policy, institutional and procedural reforms in migration governance. Establishment of a separate ministry for labour and employment issues, dedicated department for foreign employment, formulation of National and Foreign Employment Policies and introduction of new initiatives such as 'free visa and free tickets' are just a few examples of recent reforms to ensure good migration governance in the country.


In the meantime, a number of donor agencies, including the International Labour Organisation (ILO) and International Organisation for Migration (IOM), have also been actively engaged in migration issues. Migration Resource Centres have been established in some districts to help both the potential migrant workers and returnees.


In order to further ensure good migration governance for development, managing all stages of the migration cycle is a crucial precondition. Ensuring right and reliable information to all the potential migrants is the most important task for the first stage (pre-decision) of the migration cycle. As information is power, making available all the required information for safe, secured and decent migration for work will certainly eliminate some of the worst difficulties and practices in the early stage of migration. Indeed, flow of information will make the migration process more transparent, and thereby less prone to corruption and fraud.


Managing to overcome the financial arrangement challenge is the most crucial task in the second stage of the migration cycle (pre-departure). In this stage, the potential migrants have to collect funds for migration, which include the commission paid to the agents, manpower companies, and visa and ticket fees, among others. Reports have revealed that since most of the potential migrants do not have access to formal financial institutions, they must depend upon local money lenders who often charge high interests, making migration expensive. Choosing the right agent, right manpower company and right employer abroad are also very important tasks in the pre-departure stage. Acquiring the right knowledge and skills for the potential job abroad also comes under this stage.


The third stage of the migration cycle is the actual migration, in which the migrant leaves the country and begins to work abroad. Ensuring that the migrant workers properly adapt to the host country's culture and work culture is the most crucial task in this stage. This is also called integration in the host country. Providing the required support to the migrant workers abroad through good migration governance in times of difficulties is equally important. Such difficulties may arise from the violation of labour rights by the employers, lack of decent work or due to health related issues. Our labour attaches and the whole embassy team have a big responsibility in this stage to protect our migrant works while also promoting our labour diplomacy abroad.


In a recent interaction, one expert said that Nepalese migrant workers are treated very inhumanly compared to their Filipino counterparts in the Gulf and Malaysia. The main reason behind this situation was noted to be the weaknesses/low capacity of our embassies (due to financial, human and technical constraints) in the host countries. Reducing the social costs of migration, such as family breakdowns, is another vital task in this stage.


The last stage of the migration cycle is return. When migrants choose to or have to return from the country of destination, they need to be properly reintegrated in their home country. It has been noted that if the returnees are equipped with both tangible and intangible capital, namely money and skills, and social capital, reintegration becomes much easier. The extent of state support also plays a vital role in this stage. It is good that some of our returnees have started their own enterprises in their communities and surrounding areas of big cities like Kathmandu and Pokhara. However, many returnees who lack financial capital, skills and social capital can not properly reintegrate in their communities and are therefore compelled to migrate again. Providing support for realistic planning for reintegration before returning to the home country should be the focus of migration governance at this stage.


Given that remittances have become the second largest contributor to our economy (after agriculture), it has become a vital sector for our national development. Appropriate management of all stages of the migration cycle through good migration governance by all actors under the active and pro-active intervention of the state is the need of the day. As our economy cannot deliver sufficient jobs at least in the short to medium term, promoting effective labour diplomacy abroad, equipping our migrant workers with the right knowledge and skills to earn more abroad under decent working conditions and productive utilisation of their capital for the long-term development of our country should shape our future migration governance strategies and policies. 


New budget allocation formula

Since the migration sector suffers from inadequate funding, the Ministry of Finance could introduce a new budget allocation formula, which also emphasises sectoral contribution to the economy. This will increase the migration sector’s funding up to the level that is just after the funding made for agriculture.


(Dr. Bhusal works on Labour and Employment issues at the National Planning Commission Secretariat.)

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