How to Protect Migrant Workers in Nepal

When Asha departed her native Nepal to take a job as a domestic worker in Dubai, she was excited at the prospect of saving money to support herself and her family. Once established in the United Arab Emirates, however, she found herself earning a fraction of what she had been promised. She discovered her low wages were due in part to the fact that the recruitment agency that had facilitated her employment was siphoning off more than a third of her monthly salary.

With financial help from one of her brothers, Asha was able to return to Nepal after more than a year in the UAE. And eventually she did receive a portion of the fee she had paid the recruitment agency to place her abroad. But that was only because she personally confronted the recruiter who had misled her. Accessing justice through more formal channels, whether in Nepal or in the UAE, hadn’t seemed a viable option.

As a study just published by the Open Society Foundations and the Centre for the Study of Labour and Mobility in Kathmandu, Nepal, documents, Asha’s hunch that any measure of redress she obtained would have to come through informal channels is rooted in an unfortunate reality.

While Nepal has relatively robust laws governing migration, the implementation and enforcement of those protections is weak to nonexistent. With funding from the Open Society International Migration Initiative, a team of researchers conducted a two-year investigation into the mechanisms for redress that exist for migrants who have encountered exploitation before, during, or after working abroad.

The findings were sobering. Of the 43 migrants interviewed who worked in the Gulf, 30 were thrust into conditions different from what was promised to them. Not one was able to access the legal system for restitution, either while they were working in one of the Gulf states or back home in Nepal.

Media attention has focused on the obligation of governments in destination countries to protect migrants’ rights. In one sense, this is warranted: exploitation is rife and there is much more these states can and should do to ensure that men and women working within their borders are treated humanely. But the conditions for abuse are often set during the recruitment phase, in workers’ countries of origin. Governments in countries of origin also need to shoulder responsibility, and provide better oversight of the agencies placing workers abroad.

Exploitative practices are widespread in the recruitment industry. Many recruitment agents lie about remuneration migrants can expect and workers end up being underpaid. It is also commonplace for agents to charge excessive recruitment fees—sometimes thousands of dollars—which many migrants must take out loans to pay. The exorbitant fees and loans with high interest rates, coupled with lower-than-promised salaries, create the circumstances for debt bondage.  

While the on-the-ground reality is sobering, the situation is far from hopeless in Nepal. For one thing, there are laws on the books that could provide much-needed protections. A potentially effective tool for combating labor exploitation can be found in the Foreign Employment Act of 2007, which—if put into practice—could help ensure that migrants are not deceived about the conditions they encounter abroad. In particular, the Act requires agencies to submit a contract between the worker and agency and another between the worker and employer. This would allow departing migrants to see if what they have been promised squares with what has in fact been arranged. So far, however, this safeguard exists only on paper: In dozens of interviews conducted by the authors of the report, they did not find a single instance in which a contract had been exchanged between agency representatives and workers.

Another way the Nepali government could protect migrant workers is by more proactively advocating on behalf of its citizens who have been exploited in destination countries. There has been some progress in this vein: Nepal now has embassies in most Gulf states and many are staffed with labor attachés. However, when workers encounter problems in employment, embassy assistance appears heavily weighted toward arranging replacement travel documents and returning workers back to Nepal, rather than helping them obtain redress for the harms suffered. Advising migrant workers about their legal rights and supporting them in navigating judicial systems to bring cases against exploitative employers would do more than help individuals access a measure of due process. It would also help push for reform in a more systemic sense.

It is critically important for the Nepali government to safeguard the well-being of its citizens working abroad. For one thing, a staggering number of Nepalis relocate for work: Almost half of all households have at least one family member who is currently working or has previously worked abroad according to a study by the World Bank. The remittances these men and women send home account for approximately one-quarter of Nepal’s GDP. Their labor, in other words, plays a huge role in making their home economy work.

The Nepali government has adopted laws that could help protect migrant workers. It is time for them to put those provisions into practice, and regulate a recruitment industry that all-too-often doubles as a system of exploitation.



Dear Elizabeth
Thank you for offering us insights into Nepali migration to the Gulf. We know very little about Asian migration to the Gulf countries. This is an important contribution to the field. I hope that Open Society will come up with more studies in coming years.
Md Mizanur Rahman
Senior Research Fellow
Institute of South Asian Studies
National University of Singapore

Dear Rahman,

I am quite intrigued to read that a fellow from South Asian Studies knows only very little about Nepalese labor migration to Gulf. I think the department, besides catering on-campus lectures should also focus to conduct researches relying heavily on raw data from field, South Asia per se. Influx of labor migration to Gulf is more or less a common feature shared by these 8 states. And only very lately, the tsunami is diverted towards Asia-pacific region including Singapore. But still, the Gulf enriched by oil shelters significant number of labor migrants from SA. Let me make you more surprised; for example, migrants from SA contributes 45% of the total population of Qatar at present. If you go to the villages of Nepal, you can see the shortage of youth force even to carry a corpse up/downhill up to the tomb. This is the scenario.

Pertained to post; the credible solutions brought about by the study is commendable. As you have said it really contributes a lot in the field.

Rajendra Senchurey

The same case exists for malagasy women workers in Liban, and others arabic countries. This article help me to learn more about laws for the migrant. Thank you for all.

Presidente of the Hasin'i Madagasikara Green Party

I'm an Indonesian man. About migrant women from my countrythere were many victims who work abroad, certainly in Saudi Arabia, Malaysia, or possibly in the other countries. There were cases that have been published publicly and with the advocacy of migrant care. Of course we need legal protection that should be anticipated by our government. As marginalized class we need action and solidarity of the international societies to give more concerns and solutions for the case of migrant workers, especially women.

The situation here in India is not different. Here, Nepalis come mostly through already established contacts and young girls work as maids only to be exploited. Besides, girls from Bangladesh are trafficked into Delhi/adjacent regions,. They are sold to brothels keep Hindu names and are encouraged into flesh trade by those who had brought them. These girls mostly from a minority community accept this as their fate. We did a survey the findings of which was published in British High Commission Book of Abstract. When met with poverty, these voiceless international migrants are exploited day in and day out. If you or any foreign development agency give us funds, we will study such situations more and give you a Report. Our website:
Best regards
Annapoorna Director, DESI Trust
A-198, Top Floor
Ramprastha, Chander Nagar P.O
Dist.Ghaziabad, U.P.-201011, National Capital Region of Delhi
Globe is Smaller than Human Heart

Kindly, what kind of help can I get trace the whereabouts of my niece who was recruited by an agency in Kenya two weeks ago. The agency is not giving me any helpful information regarding her placement in Saudi Arabia. As a family, we have not been able to know whether she arrived well and how she is doing. he agency is still recruiting ladies many of whom are very vulnerable. Kindly help

I am very surprise to read this article. I think the the rights of migrant workers must be protected by the country in which they are employed . This can not be well done by their origin country. it is normal in this case that the UAE respect his international obligations about migrant workers. For example in Europe the fight against dark work is not conduct again africain, latino and east europeans country workers.
I think this article is an intellectual lie : the fight again low wages for migrant workers must go against Those who employ these migrant workers.

The truth of the matter is Nepal people also move around the globe for one reason or the other. Therefore, Mr. Nepal man and women "do treat others what and how you would like others to treat you".

It is very sad that the Government of Nepal has not been paying due attention to the needs of migrant workers though the country is enjoying about more than 23% contribution of remittance. Now I'm in Rautahat district of Nepal, just today morning I was talking with a boy aged 15 who is now trying to make his citizenship certificate and Passport with fake date of birth which takes place in different parts of the country. The issuance of such documents from Government authorities is also augmenting the problem.

What could we do as observers, we can understand but who can really help?

Persons with intellectual disabilities suffer violence in the society mostly in Ghana. Cape Coast is not left out in this. Therefore SAPID submitted a proposal to your organization for a grant to advocate on their behalf. To fight for their rights. I will be very grateful if this grant will be granted so that with one accord conditions will be minimised. Thank you.

Elizabeth Frantz
Program Officer, International Migration Initiative
Open Society

Dear Dr Frantz. I greet you. I read your research article on migrant protection regarding labor conditions with Indentured Servitude (as correctly indicated in the article)....I am the International law graduate and former law consular for IOM first office (now missions) on International migration. some ten years ago, the International migration hot issue was on regulating internal migration as a result of disintegrated big empire of USSR and transit styate unprepared to regulate flow of migrants to western Europe as a result of economic conditions ( from and through eastern European states) and from politicaly distablized numerouse African and Asian including middle eastern nations, which included trafficing and criminalised commercial service of migrants which contributed the condition of thise migrants to illegality since many crossed boareders with out legal visas, with out identity. But, the protection of this migrants at their destination was based on International norms and national laws of Western Eurpe. The middle east ( Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Kuwait, Arab Emirates, worst of all as a transit land Yemen, Jordan, Lebanon with little difference, but similarly deal with foreign workers as modern slaves...i have seen by own eyes one this wealthy countries. The two important points: The employer has the full right upon recruited foreign worker, the migrant worker can not move, since his Pass port is taken from him by the employer, there is no law which protect legaly migrant person from employer, the recruitor agents are criminalised to the worst -the channel of recruitment extends from migrant home country with false promises,causing the poor family of the migrant to arrange big funds for travel ( from 2-5thousand US dollars), most or almost all migrants are not protected from any danger, they take risks of life, where many drowned into the sea and dead (last for example arround 60 migrants died by drowing into a red sea while riding on unsafe boat of trafficers from Somalia to Yemen, many hundereds died while riding to Italy from libya seating on extremly unsafe boat full of children, pregnat woman,old and sick men , many migrants while crossing the Sahara desert via Egypt to Israel...attacked, robbed, raped, or killed by trafickers and their partners-criminal gangisters....I tried and planned to investigate, where i prepared the recommendation to save life of migrants, as prt of the research on Governance ( as to the Open Societ individual research initiative, which i sent on time in 2013 in summer to hear the positive support in December 2013, but the open society for grants on individual grant on the unrearched and important issue connected to open Society's priorities,...the OS , though i didmy best, ....they did not approve or support....) I ask you, i am again ready to propose ways how we can help protect and which contributes to migrant life saving, i shall try or plan to work, to inform freely the bad side of labor migration, where there is no legal protection and mainly mechanisms of protecton from trafickers and recruites by fals promises. if can suppport, i can forward my project...Thanks and i shae fully your views given in the article.
Tesfaye Tibebu Dibaba (Mr)
Independent law consular,
Kyiv, Ukraine
contact e-mail :
mob/ +380639927813

Thanks Elizabeth to post articles. It is also common in Bangladesh and the magnitude of stigma & discrimination and violence especialy towards female migrants is deep rooted and so diverse through out supplu chan of labor migration as well as continnum of migration cycle. I think global stake holders like UNagencies, Int. Rights Group, Development Partner, INGOs should work closely with the government of sending and destination countires for ensuring safe migration and migrants' wellbeing across the globe. Especially western gvernment should talk with their multinational commpany (from Europe & America) those who are woring at destionation countries like Middle east and others gulf countires as they using labor migrants for their company works.
Md. AbuTaher
Team Leader-EMPHASIS Project
CARE-International in Bangladesh
Cell phone: +8801711006369

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