The two core, interlinked practices of exploitative recruitment, the charging of illegal and exorbitant recruitment fees to migrant workers to secure jobs, and the use of deception or contract substitution by making false promises about jobs in destination countries to persuade them to commit to these fees, are prevalent in the Nepal-Qatar corridor.
Nepal continues to allow workers to be charged recruitment fees. The government has attempted to cap the limit at 10,000 rupees (US$ 83) for most workers - what it calls “zero cost” recruitment - and to enforce this through new bilateral agreements. In reality the vast majority of workers pay far in excess of this amount. The fact there is not a complete ban on fees, and poor policing of the upper limit, creates a grey zone for agencies to charge in excess of the limit, and the business model of recruitment agencies has therefore not changed since the introduction of the 2015 “Free Visa Free Ticket” policy. The vast majority of recruitment agencies till rely on charging workers extremely high fees, partly in order to be able to generate demand from employers in destination states, who are seeking the cheapest recruitment costs available and may have better offers from other origin states. While the Free Visa Free Ticket policy may have slightly reduced costs for workers, ultimately there is still no real market for ethical recruitment in Nepal. Meanwhile, the Nepali authorities have attempted to make contracts more transparent and accessible to migrant workers. However, serious problems with implementation persist. Many workers are not issued contracts, receive them just before travelling, or are given them in languages they do not understand. Since 2018 the government has sought to insert its embassies into the recruitment processes, to carry out proper checks on employers and their ability to offer the terms and conditions, but limited resources at embassies are a problem, and contract substitution remains widespread. Some experts believe the Foreign Employment Information Management System (FEIMS) may help to reduce the prevalence of contract substitution.
While Qatari law clearly prohibits the payment of fees by migrant workers to entities in Qatar, the government has until very recently treated recruitment fee payment as a problem for origin states. As a result, there has generally been limited scrutiny of the interactions of employers and Qatari agencies with origin state recruiters. When Qatari entities refuse to pay appropriate professional fees to agencies in origin states, those agencies in turn offer discounted or free services, and even pay kickbacks to secure demand letters, passing these costs onto workers. Recently, high profile initiatives have sought to address employers’ non-payment of recruitment fees with guidance and contractual requirements, notably the Qatar 2022 Supreme Committee for Delivery and Legacy. It is yet to be seen what steps Qatar will take against the many employers outside such high-profile projects who consider worker payment of recruitment fees to be the norm. The main role of the new Qatar Visa Centers to introduce greater control into the contracting process. These provide workers with clarity on the content of their job offers and provide them with an opportunity to reject adverse terms and conditions. While it is too early to fully assess their impact, there is some suggestion that the centers may reduce the incidence of substitution, but with Nepali recruitment agencies remain in control of the wider process, the risk of exploitation remains high.
Recommendations to the Government of Nepal:
- Adopt the ILO’s definition of recruitment fees and related costs and mandate that Nepali employment agencies require foreign employers to pay all the costs of recruiting Nepali workers, including training and medical costs.
- Stipulate in law that the full extent and nature of costs charged by recruitment agencies should be transparent to employers in destination states.
- Provide explicit protection in law for workers who do not have a written contract.
- Discuss with Qatar ways to increase the effectiveness of the QVC, including by allowing workers to “walk in” without an agent making an appointment for them, and for increasing the focus the QVC pays to fee payment.
- Cooperate with other origin states to share information about abusive and exploitative employers in the Gulf.
Recommendations to the Government of Qatar:
- Amend the law to prohibit the payment of recruitment fees and related costs, in line with the ILO definition, by migrant workers to any entity, including third parties who may be located outside Qatar.
- Stipulate in law, by amending Ministerial order 8 of 2005, that the full extent and nature of costs charged by local recruitment agencies should be transparent to employers.
- Establish and promote a process for all migrant workers to safely disclose to the authorities and seek reimbursement for any payment of recruitment fees; task the QVCs to proactively identify and log cases of illegal recruitment fees and share information with Qatari investigatory bodies.
- Building on work by the ADLSA, Institute for Business & Human Rights, the Chamber of Commerce, and the ILO, require companies to budget transparently and non-competitively for recruitment costs, including in their contracting chains, in public procurement bidding processes.