Protecting Migrants Through Skill Training

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On my way to the southern commercial hub of Butwal on a work-related assignment, I encountered two intriguing individuals. The first was a man who spent 23 years working in the Gulf region and had recently returned to Nepal. Despite earning a substantial salary of NPR 288,000 per month abroad, he returned with the hope of finding work in Nepal and living with the family. If his plan failed, he had the option of returning to his former employer. He held a diploma in Electrical Engineering from a renowned technical school and had worked in Nepal for two years before leaving.

Labour Migration

The second person I met was eager to work abroad at any cost and in any available job. I advised him to seek skills training before leaving, but he was not interested. Instead, he preferred to return home to be with his family. His relative had informed him of an imminent visa, but he had been waiting for two months without any information. This encounter prompted me to reflect on the motivations behind labour migration, particularly regarding skills. Why do people leave without acquiring the necessary skills?

Nepal currently enjoys a demographic dividend with 40% of Nepal's population under the age of 20 and 71.3% population in the working age group (NLFS, 2017/18). However, a significant number of the workforce, 33% are illiterate and 52.8% have only completed secondary education. To address this issue, the Government of Nepal (GoN) is promoting skill development programmes and opening technical schools in all municipalities for increased accessibility. Despite the increase in a training capacity, enrollment in technical schools has decreased by 50%. The unemployment rate is on the rise at 11.4% forcing many unemployed Nepali youth to migrate abroad. 

Remittance

Annually, over 350,000 Nepalese workers migrate to different countries of destination (CoD). According to data from the Ministry of Labor, Employment, and Social Services (MoLESS), 74.5% of these migrants are unskilled workers, 24% are semi-skilled, and only 1.5% are skilled. Although Nepal received NPR 1.007 trillion in remittances in 2022, compared to other labour-sending countries like the Philippines, it is relatively low. One of the reasons is that most Nepali workers are unskilled.

Migrating as unskilled workers results in lower pay due to a lack of expertise and poor job performance. These workers often lack knowledge of personal and occupational safety, which can lead to workplace accidents. The difficulties faced by unskilled and low-skilled labour migrants are documented in books by journalists such as Hom Karki in "Sanaiya", Devendra Adhikari in "Registan Diary", and Janakraj Timilsina in "Kahar". However, it is important to thoroughly understand these issues and take appropriate action.

Many migrant workers understand the benefits of going abroad as skilled workers, but often prioritise their financial struggles over skill development. With many migrants coming from economically and educationally disadvantaged backgrounds, they are often burdened with high-interest loans. Their desperation to migrate quickly can lead to malicious practices, such as seeking guidance from informal agents who may mislead them about employment costs, wages, and occupations. These agents often discourage migrants from obtaining skills training, as they fear that increased knowledge and awareness could reduce their ability to extort high employment costs. 

The GoN has taken measures to protect migrant workers, such as halting labour migration and implementing employer-paid modality and restrictions on domestic work for female migrants. However, these policies have resulted in the increased exploitation of migrants, with higher recruitment fees being paid through unrecorded means. 

The ban on female migrants for domestic work has led to many women taking risks and using illegal means to migrate. GoN's attempts to reduce migration have not been effective. To support migrants, Migrant Resource Centers have been established in various districts with support from different development agencies. These centres provide information on labour 

migration and GoN provisions, and offer free skills training.

While the government's policies appear to be beneficial for both the migrants and the country, there are significant gaps in their implementation. The policies primarily focus on remedial measures rather than preventive ones. One of the most notable gaps is the government's lack of commitment to making skill training mandatory for the migrating youth to ensure their safety and well-being abroad. Furthermore, the national skill certificate received in Nepal goes unrecognised at the CoD due to skill mismatch.

Comprehensive Measure

Providing skill training is a comprehensive measure that can help reduce instances of cheating, lower the risk of workplace accidents, increase wages, improve working conditions, and increase respect from employers. Skilled workers who are satisfied with their jobs also tend to be in better physical and mental health. Furthermore, skilled workers can continue their careers in similar occupations after returning home, reducing the likelihood of repeated migration. Despite the numerous benefits of migrating with skills, the government seems to be hesitant about promoting this, for fear of being perceived as encouraging migration. 

Sustainable Development Goals 2030 recognises skills development and migration as key drivers of sustainable economic development that bring significant benefits to migrants and their communities through the transfer of skills and financial investments in their countries of origin. International Conventions such as GCM, Abu Dhabi Dialogue, and SAARC emphasise the importance of inclusive employment policies and investing in the skills development of migrants, as well as facilitating the mutual recognition of skills, qualifications, and competencies. Nepal's Foreign Employment Policy 2068 and National Education Policy 2076 highlight the need for the skill development of migrant workers, but implementation has fallen far behind. Thus, developing the skills of migrants does not promote migration, but rather protects young people from risking their lives by going abroad without any skills.

The current era is shaped by personal choices. It's not possible to restrict individuals from either staying at home or migrating, but we can provide them with informed choices through skill development. The level of economic activity in the country will determine whether providing skills to aspiring migrants is truly promoting migration or safeguarding their well-being.

(Baniya is a student of MPhil in Development Studies at Kathmandu University School of Education)

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Sunila Baniya
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