Migration corridor

Nepal Kuwait

With remittances making up almost a third of its GDP, Nepal is one of the largest remittance recipient countries in the world. High levels of poverty, unemployment, and natural disasters have led to nearly one in ten Nepalis seeking work abroad. The government used to set targets with a view to increasing the number of Nepalis travelling abroad, but the focus in the past decade has shifted somewhat towards retaining Nepalis, creating jobs in the country and more priority has been given to ensuring that those who migrate do so in a safe and dignified manner.

Nepal Kuwait migration corridor

The numbers

  • Metric nepal kuwait 01 Percentage of Nepal’s GDP from overseas workers 28 percent
  • Metric nepal kuwait 02 Percentage of migrant workers in Kuwait’s workforce 82 percent
  • Metric nepal kuwait 03 One domestic worker for every two Kuwaiti citizens 1:2

This reflects an increased global focus on human rights in the migration process and a growing sensitivity among the Nepali public to the treatment of their compatriots abroad. However regulation of the influential recruitment industry, which maintains close relationships with political parties, is a major challenge, given the rampant abuse of migrant workers and the intense competition - between recruiters and with other origin states - for jobs in wealthy destination countries. On top of these challenges international bodies have criticised the lack of coordination between the numerous ministries and committees managing migration policy, exacerbated by political instability, frequent changes in government and a high turn-over of labour ministers over the past decade.

The Arab Gulf states are a major destination for Nepalis. In 2017/2018, Kuwait hosted 5% of all Nepali workers migrating to countries other than India, with workers in Kuwait sending home US$150m in remittances. Kuwait has among the world’s highest GDP per capita, and migrant workers, mainly from South Asia, make up more than two-thirds of Kuwait’s total population, the majority working in low-paid private sector jobs and as domestic workers. Kuwaiti government policy, termed “Kuwaitisation”, is to reduce this imbalance, and ideally to reverse it, whilst at the same time still developing the construction and hospitality sectors which rely on that very same workforce - with Kuwaiti nationals largely reluctant to take up the lower-paid, stigmatised, jobs in the private sector. This gap between official migration policy and actual labour market demand has contributed to irregular migration and visa overstays, as well as “visa trading” – whereby workers in migrant countries buy visas, either from recruiters in Kuwait or in the origin country.

Priority recommendations to strengthen efforts to ensure fair recruitment

The Nepal authorities should:

  • Fully prohibit the payment of fees and related costs, in line with the ILO definition, by migrant workers to recruitment agencies.
  • Pending the adoption of a zero-cost migration model, fully enforce penalties against recruitment agencies charging fees above the legal limit, in accordance with relevant provisions of the FEA.
  • Increase resources devoted to investigating and prosecuting corruption in the Department of Foreign Employment.
  • Ensure that all migrant workers, regardless of their job, gender, or whether they migrated through regular channels, have full access to consular assistance in destination countries and grievance mechanisms in Nepal.
  • Strengthen the capacity of diplomatic missions in Qatar and Kuwait to support migrant workers facing exploitation and other abuses in seeking redress including by providing legal advice and representation; ensure that missions are adequately resourced to carry out thorough checks on prospective employers as part of the “demand letter” attestation process.
  • Provide specialized pre-departure training for domestic workers and institute regular phone checkin procedures for domestic workers with Nepali consulates in Gulf states.

The Kuwait authorities should:

  • Conduct a formal, independent, public review of Kuwait’s national migration policy. The review should solicit views from a wide range of stakeholders and should specifically examine the relationship between Kuwaitisation and the human rights of migrant workers, and measures to address xenophobia and discrimination against migrant workers.
  • Introduce legislation that enables migrant workers to transfer employers without the permission of their employers, and complement this with mechanisms that enable them to exercise this right in practice.
  • Remove the criminal charge of “absconding”.
  • Amend legislation to explicitly ban the payment of recruitment fees for all categories of migrant workers. Undertake proactive investigations (and where there is sufficient evidence, criminal prosecutions) into corrupt recruitment practices on the part of employers and recruiters, including the payment of “kickbacks”, and human trafficking.
  • Strengthen the capacity of the labour inspectorate and ensure that it has the necessary resources as well as linguistic and investigatory skills to conduct private interviews with workers during visits and identify cases of serious abuses beyond the non-payment of wages. Institute labour inspections of private residences hiring domestic workers - including unannounced visits.
  • Significantly reduce the time period migrant workers have to wait for court processes to proceed and ease the process of sponsorship transfer during this period.
  • Protect migrant trade union members and civil society groups from retaliation for carrying out activities protecting migrants’ human rights.
Policy summaries of Nepal - Kuwait