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Tough going for Nepal’s best ‘export’

As if the global recession was not enough, migrant workers, Nepal’s best ‘export’ that contributes nearly 20 percent of the country’s GDP, are facing a series of recent worries.

world Updated: Aug 22, 2010 23:58 IST
Utpal Parashar

As if the global recession was not enough, migrant workers, Nepal’s best ‘export’ that contributes nearly 20 percent of the country’s GDP, are facing a series of recent worries.

The month started with 153 Nepali workers in Macau losing their jobs. Then there was news of 108 workers being duped by manpower agencies stranded in Libya.

More bad news followed with Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai banning security agencies. It would lead to nearly 15,000-20,000 Nepalis working as security guards losing jobs.

Last month Nepal lifted a six-year ban on workers going to Iraq. While it came as relief to those who entered the country legally, the fate of nearly 100,000 illegal Nepalis in Iraq still hangs in balance. And Nepal has failed to persuade Israel to lift a 2009 ban on its workers.

These are worrying signals for the country that is largely dependent on remittances. At present Nepal receives around US $ 3 billion annually from the nearly three million migrant workers abroad (except India).

“The aftermath of the global financial crisis and the ensuing economic crisis is definitely a difficult time for Nepali migrants,” says columnist Chandan Sapkota.

The decline in demand of Nepali workers will directly affect remittances.

It will also affect household purchasing power and sectors like real estate and imports where remittances money is flowing into.

Narrowing down of options won’t mean an increase in semi-skilled/unskilled Nepalis moving to India. But since the job market in Nepal is squeezing, skilled workers could turn to India, says Sapkota. India is home to nearly 10-12 million Nepali workers at present.

“The government has to wake up; seriously and with a detailed plan,” Sapkota says.

But with political stability eluding Nepal, when some measures will be put into place is anyone’s guess.