Widespread extreme poverty and high unemployment, exacerbated by political conflicts 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 focused 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. 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 sending workers for foreign employment, 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, push female workers into irregular migration, placing them at greater risk of trafficking and abuse, and reducing their access to grievance mechanisms and consular assistance abroad.
Migrant workers outnumber nationals in Qatar by nine to one, attracted by opportunities for work created by a 20-year construction boom. This imbalance is viewed by government agencies as a social and security challenge, and policies are accordingly designed to maintain the temporary basis upon which most of its low-skilled, overwhelmingly male, migrant workforce is recruited and to prevent them from settling and obtaining citizenship. Qatar’s visa allocation policy appears to be in part linked to its political relationships, with the Ministry of Interior’s distribution of “block” approvals for specific nationalities being one of the few areas that the government involves itself with the day- to-day management of migration. These block approvals in some cases do not align with the visas that employers request, driving the market for black-market “free visas”. Otherwise, Qatar largely delegates its migration control to private recruitment agencies and employers. Qatar came under intense international pressure over the treatment of migrant workers after it won the right to host the 2022 World Cup, and faced the threat of an ILO commission of inquiry into forced labour. Under a cooperation partnership with ILO agreed in 2017, Qatar embarked on a program of labour reforms, including setting a non-discriminatory minimum wage and making changes to the migrant worker sponsorship system. New laws adopted since 2018 permit migrants to change jobs without obtaining permission from their current employer and to leave the country without an exit permit. The implementation of these laws has been closely scrutinized, in particularly the question of whether workers can change jobs as intended by the reforms, and it is too early to assess their effectiveness. While Qatar’s migrant workforce is majority male, female domestic workers have long faced particularly severe abuses. Excluded from the provisions of the Labour Law, they obtained some protections through a 2017 law. However, failures of enforcement, in addition to weak guarantees for women’s rights in the country in general, mean that women migrant workers continue to face abuses. In 2021, Qatar introduced a standard employment contract for domestic workers addressing a number of disparities between legal protections afforded under the domestic workers law and the 2004 Labour Law, from which domestic workers are excluded.
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.
- 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.
- 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.
Recommendations to the Government of Qatar:
- Ensure that the legal reforms to Qatar’s kafala system of sponsorship (Law no 18 of 2020 and Law no 19 of 2020) are implemented fully, with migrant workers provided with mechanisms that enable them to exercise their legal right to change employers.
- Remove the charge of “absconding” from Law No 21 of 2015.
- Introduce a transparent visa allocation process so that employers can only receive the visas that they have requested.