A popular saying in Nepal suggests that if Western countries such as the United States, Europe, and Australia offered free permanent residency in their respective countries, practically every Nepali would leave their homeland. This proverb emphasises strong desire to seek opportunities overseas by Nepalis who are driven and motivated by the potential of increased income and better living conditions. However, the reality for many Nepali immigrants is far from ideal as a shocking incident demonstrated recently. In Israel, ten Nepalis were killed and numerous others were injured in a missile attack by Hamas fighters.
According to recent data, over 10,000 Nepali immigrant workers have died while working abroad in the last decade. Furthermore, migrant Nepalis frequently face physical, mental, and sexual exploitation. Such distressing circumstances highlight the inherent dangers for Nepalis opting for working abroad. Nepal, with a population of almost 30 million people, has a 65 per cent youth population aged 16 to 60, providing it a demographic dividend. However, this demographic group's enormous migration, often known as brain drain, deprives the country of the potential benefits they could provide. Due to limited opportunities at home, Nepal has seen a major exodus of its economically viable youth and others to both developed and developing nations during the last three decades.
Spike in migration
The scale of migration in our country is disturbing, as seen by the long lines of young people at international airport departure lounges and border crossings. According to recent data, nearly 900,000 young Nepalese went abroad for employment and study in a single year, with 775,000 going for work during the previous fiscal year. Furthermore, approximately 100,000 Nepali students study overseas, accounting for roughly 7 per cent of the country's active youth population aged 16-40. According to the National Census of 2078, roughly 2.2 million Nepalis now reside abroad. This spike in migration began around the year 2000, coinciding with the Maoist insurgency, as the bloody fighting harmed economic prospects at home.
This worrying migration trend reflects systemic flaws in Nepal's education system as well as restricted domestic work possibilities. Approximately 450,000 young Nepalis enter the labour force each year after completing their undergraduate and higher education degrees. Unfortunately, only approximately 15 per cent of them find work in Nepal, where they frequently earn minimum wage. Families are thus forced to send their relatives abroad in pursuit of a better future. In the meantime, social factors such as family, friend influence, and personal preferences, in addition to economic ones, play a key part in encouraging young people to move.
Many people see migration as a way to get away from the difficulties and obstacles they face in Nepal. The appeal of better possibilities and higher living standards abroad, along with discontent with domestic income prospects, drives youth migration. The problem has been compounded by the lack of government policies and political leadership to address the situation. Despite lofty promises, made by political parties and populist rhetoric, massive unemployment has persisted, and hundreds of thousands of young and capable Nepalis remain unemployed and disillusioned. The vicious interplay of political, educational, and economic forces highlights the issues confronting Nepal's youths, since most opportunities are monopolised by individuals linked with political parties, leaving common youths with no choice but to migrate.
It is unfortunate that the current migration issue has spread to rural areas, with young people leaving their villages en masse in pursuit of better possibilities. Agricultural issues, poverty, a lack of educational opportunities, and a lack of motivation compel rural youths to look for work elsewhere. As a result of this trend, some rural settlements and villages now lack sufficient number of capable youth population. As the alarming migration continues to surge, a multi-pronged approach is required to successfully address this situation. Authorities must invest in creating jobs within the country through encouraging investment, setting up industries, and encouraging entrepreneurship. Improving education system to meet with practical job market needs and offering scholarships to foster technical knowledge are critical measures.
It is also important to provide social security, services, and amenities for Nepali work force in order to diminish the appeal of foreign employment. Efforts should be directed on delivering opportunities and services to rural communities, so relieving migration pressure on urban areas. Furthermore, leveraging non-resident Nepalis' knowledge, skills, wealth, and technology can bring hope and possibilities for the youth. Making secondary education practical and job-oriented, ensuring employment prospects, fostering a culture of respect for all types of jobs, ending discrimination in employment opportunities, and addressing disparities and inequalities to provide equal opportunities for all segments of society, regardless of political affiliation, can all contribute to a reduction in Nepali emigration.
Despite all difficulties, migrant workers should be applauded for their vital role in keeping our economy afloat. As more Nepali youngsters travel abroad to work, the remittances they send home set new records. Remittance inflows reached a stunning Rs 1.11 trillion in the first 11 months of the fiscal year that concluded in mid-June, representing a 22.7 per cent year-on-year rise, according to the Central Bank (Nepal Rastra Bank). Remittance inflows stood at Rs 47 billion in 2000-01. Remittance is vital to Nepal's economy and are attributed for plying huge role in improved health and social indicators in the country. Despite the benefits of greater remittance inflow, the migration of Nepalis is a complicated challenge that requires immediate attention and comprehensive remedies.
Economic expert say that while remittances sent by these expatriate help Nepal's economy, they do not promote long-term national production or economic possibilities. Youth population loss has resulted in a variety of social, cultural, and economic issues, and may even jeopardise the nation's sovereignty in the long run. Authorities must take prompt action to address the underlying causes of alarming trend of migration and to foster a climate that encourages the country's most important resource — its youth — to stay, thrive, and contribute to Nepal's development. Harnessing the energy, creativity, and abilities of Nepal's youth is crucial to attaining long-term progress and prosperity. While no government can prevent migration totally, it is significant that the number of Nepali migrants be reduced a satisfactory level.
(Upadhyay is former managing editor of this daily.)