A leader of a major political party in Nepal has reportedly appealed to the Qatar government to help the nation enforce a recently introduced “free visa, free ticket” system.
The new system, which the six GCC states and Malaysia agreed to last July, would help reduce the burden of debt faced by many Nepalis working abroad by limiting the amount of money they pay when leaving their country.
During a visit to Doha over the weekend, the Unified Communist Party of Nepal (UCPN)’s Narayan Kaji Shrestha urged Qatar’s labor minister to assist in the roll-out of the plan, the Kathmandu Post reported.
Under the new system, recruitment agencies can charge a maximum of NPR20,000 (QR683) for processing fees, while the employer must pay the cost of airfare and securing the appropriate visas.
Recruitment agencies in Nepal have been opposing the new rules, arguing that the fees are too low.
The Nepal Association of Foreign Employment Agencies even launched a strike last month, calling for an increase in the cap, My Republica reported.
Previously, agents were able to charge up to NPR70,000 (QR2,392), although unofficial charges could be significantly higher, human rights organization Migrant Rights said.
Poor implementation of the new system has reportedly resulted in abuses, with some agencies and sub-agencies continuing to charge higher fees to Nepalis who want to work abroad, but only writing out receipts for up to NPR20,000.
If a person wants to challenge the case, he can only prove he has paid up to the official fee, Migrant Rights added.
Under Qatar law, it is illegal to charge recruitment fees, although the practice persists in many countries.
‘Hassle free’ transfer
During his meeting in Qatar, Shrestha reportedly appealed to the nation’s labor minister to monitor local companies that employ Nepalis.
In turn, Minister of Administrative Development and Labor and Social Affairs Issa bin Saad Al-Jafali Al-Nuaimi asked Nepal’s government to ensure the process for workers leaving their home country was “hassle free,” the Kathmandu Post said.
The minister added that problems relating to Nepalis in Qatar that are reported by the country’s embassy would be resolved.
In an opinion column in Telegraph Nepal, one editor called for an end to “ambiguities” in the new system, which she argued has left expatriate workers open to exploitation.
“Establishing a clear framework that works in favor of the migrants is the need of the hour,” said Prem Kumari Pant, editor of the Weekly Mirror Nepal.
Quoting a returnee migrant and activist, Migrant Rights said the success of the “free visa, free ticket” system needs the cooperation of host countries such as Qatar to enforce it when workers arrive.
In a report published in February, the group said: “The solution of course is not to continue with high recruitment fees, but to put in place strong checkpoints to ensure workers are not exploited, both in Nepal and in countries of employment.”
Nepalis in Qatar
Qatar is home to around 400,000 Nepalis – making it home to one of the world’s biggest Nepali diasporas.
The money Nepali expats make here is crucial to their home country’s development.
A recent World Bank report found that of the $6.6 billion that Nepal received in bilateral overseas remittances in 2015, mostly following the earthquake, around one-third – $2.02 billion – came from Qatar, the Kathmandu Post reported.
Improving conditions for workers from Nepal, and other major labor-sending countries, has been on Qatar’s agenda for a number of years.
A 2014 report, Migrant Labor Recruitment to Qatar, commissioned by Qatar Foundation, found that Nepalis seeking to work in Qatar fork out an average $1,300 in fees – the highest of any of the five top labor-sending countries studied.
To secure contracts, recruiters often offer to pay companies between $200-$600 per employee needed. The agent then recoups that money from the workers by adding it on to their admin fees.
Calling for an end to the system, the report said:
“This practice must be seen as one of the most cynically exploitative practices in modern labor recruitment. It is the most vulnerable, the poorest, low-skilled, least-educated and least able to pay who are charged the fees (by the agents).”
Last August, a spokesman for Nepalis living abroad called for new measures to tackle the exploitation by manpower agencies of many workers trying to get jobs overseas.
Shesh Ghale, Non-Resident Nepalese Association President, appealed to the Nepal government to take action, with help from Gulf states, to set up training and skills centers to brief would-be migrant workers on their rights before they leave their home state.