Nepal Kuwait

Nepal - Kuwait: Migration Policy

Widespread extreme poverty, high unemployment, and the effects of natural disasters, have led to nearly one in ten Nepalis seeking work abroad. Remittances make up almost a third of GDP. Although the government seeks to halt this flow by establishing more work opportunities at home, the current decline in agricultural output and international tourism is likely to keep pushing Nepalis to leave. Foreign employment therefore features centrally in Nepal’s economic planning and legislation, but, whereas policies were previously focussed mainly on developing labour opportunities to address unemployment, there has been a recent shift to greater emphasis on worker protections, and a push to sign Bilateral Labour Agreements (BLAs) with key destination countries, although the overall framework is yet to conform with international standards. 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 the IOM has 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. Policies are often adopted without clear implementation plans or adequate resources, and though seemingly well-intentioned, they produce adverse outcomes for migrants. In an attempt to increase coherence, Nepal is currently rolling out new software to manage migration data more efficiently.

A lengthy and complicated labour permit application process means that most aspiring migrants use recruitment agencies; three-quarters report abusive practices, including payment of recruitment fees far in excess of the national legal limit. Domestic work abroad – an area typically dominated by women – has also been at the intersection of the competing pressures of employment demand and worker protection. Despite prohibitions against gender-based discrimination in securing foreign employment for workers, and incremental improvements in legislation addressing the challenges faced by female migrant workers, the real-world effect of revolving travel bans on migration for domestic work (especially to Gulf countries) has been to unduly discriminate against women, and, contrary to a professed aim to protect, have the effect of driving female workers into irregular migration, placing them at greater risk of trafficking and abuse, and removing their access to grievance mechanisms and consular assistance abroad.

Migrant workers – mostly men, working in low-paid, private sector jobs – make up more than two-thirds of Kuwait’s total population. Kuwaiti government policy 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. The incoherence of this policy of “Kuwaitisation” has only been further deepened by the clear reluctance of Kuwaiti nationals 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. The large population of irregular migrants, some of whom become undocumented after fleeing abusive employment conditions, has led the authorities to launch regular mass arrest and deportation campaigns, making migrant workers’ lives highly insecure.

Migrant workers are subject to a 1959 residency law that ties them to a sponsor who controls their entry to the country, renewal of residence permits and termination of employment. They face significant restrictions in relation to changing jobs. Recent labour reforms, supported by the ILO, have largely focussed on the domestic work sector, perhaps because of its importance to the country and the scrutiny it has attracted. More than 660,000 domestic workers are employed in Kuwait - a country with a population of 1.3 million citizens, representing one domestic worker for every two Kuwaiti citizens. Ninety percent of Kuwaiti households have at least one domestic worker, the majority of them women, with many facing abuse, including physical and sexual violence. Seeking to address international criticism of its human rights record, since 2015, Kuwait adopted a series of legal reforms that should provide greater protections to domestic workers’ rights by regulating employment, setting a minimum wage, banning the payment of recruitment fees, and establishing a state-owned recruitment agency to specifically recruit workers in this sector. However, there are deep failings in enforcement and a lack of knowledge of these laws. With allegations of abuse persisting, the government has banned recruitment of domestic workers from 27 countries that do not have diplomatic missions in Kuwait, while other countries have introduced bans to prevent their nationals from migrating to Kuwait.

Recommendations to the Government of Nepal:

  • Conduct a formal, independent, public review of Nepal’s national migration policy. The review should solicit views from a wide range of stakeholders and should address issues including gender-sensitivity and the potential and feasibility of increasing the rate of workers hired via government to government recruitment models.
  • 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.
  • Provide women with regulated channels to migrate to the Gulf for domestic work, investing in dedicated gender-sensitive capacities - both in domestic institutions and in diplomatic missions - to protect women, including banning employers found to have abused domestic workers from hiring in future, insisting that standard contracts include requirements for women to have mobile phones, and establishing shelters in embassies. Abandon proposals to require women to seek permission from family members before migrating.

Recommendations to the Government of Kuwait:

  • 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 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.
  • Introduce a transparent visa allocation process so that employers can only receive the visas that they have requested.