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Impact of Covid-19 on Migrant Workers

The COVID-19 pandemic is regarded as one of the most serious global health catastrophes of the century. The greatest threat to humanity since the Second World War. Following the damages done, this new infectious respiratory disease that surfaced in Wuhan, China in December 2019 has been recognized by the World Health Organization and was officially declared a pandemic on January 30, 2020.

The pandemic has had a significant impact on the global distribution chain for goods and services, compromising people’s incomes and livelihoods. The position of transnational migrant workers, who have found themselves in the middle of a pandemic in another country, often out of job and living in the most perilous conditions, is of great concern. The pandemic is predicted to have a long-term impact on Nepal, which relies largely on remittances from workers abroad to keep its economy afloat.  

Foreign employment has been prioritized as a source of labor absorption and economic empowerment in the national poverty reduction strategy. In recent years, Nepali people have mostly sought employment in India, the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries, and Malaysia. More than 1 million labour permits were issued by the Department of Foreign Employment (DoFE) for employment in countries other than India in the 24 months prior to the lockdown imposed in Nepal and most destination countries in March 2020, according to data from the Department of Foreign Employment (DoFE). Since 2015, just over 35,000 workers have gone to South Korea under the Employment Permit System (EPS).

Three million Nepali people have been estimated to be in foriegn nations working and sending money back home and an average of 1000+ Nepali people go abroad on a daily basis for employment opportunities. Even though the migration rate for foreign employment last year saw a serious drop due to the Covid-19 pandemic with only 166,698 people leaving Nepal and a slight drop in remittance rate, the inflow still managed to pick itself up and top the charts. 

However, as a result of COVID-19, a large number of Nepali migrant workers have lost their jobs, and many have been obliged to seek unpaid leave or return home before their contract period is out. Approximately 20% of Nepali people living overseas are said to be unemployed. Workers have not received their wages or other benefits, and they are unable to access basic amenities, such as health facilities, while working and putting their health at risk.

Returning home was out of the question for many stranded migrants for months, exposing them to a slew of problems and hardships. The government has announced plans for the repatriation of stranded migrant workers, but while implementation will be difficult logistically, there is also a potential that thousands of migrants could be denied their due wages and benefits. The fall in demand for employees, both at home and in destination countries, will have short and long-term consequences due to the severe constraints faced by the commercial and industrial sectors.