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Emigration in Nepal: Why so many Nepalese go abroad


The outflow of Nepal’s working class to other countries has always been a concern for our economy. Today more than ever, a huge portion of our manpower, especially young adults are leaving Nepal in an unprecedented amount. The 2011 census showed that almost 50% of Nepali households had at least one person working abroad. That is a HUGE number.

It is now clear that in order to uplift the economy of Nepal in the long run, controlling emigration is an absolute necessity. Understanding the reasoning that goes behind this is an integral part of working towards solutions.

Understanding emigration’s impacts

Migration affects the economy at the micro as well as macro levels. In the household, remittance is flown inward hence increasing the income. However, the loss of a family member from the household has social impacts on children and the family. The emotional strain caused by the emigration of one member is significant and the social welfare of the economy is hence lost.

In the economy, the flow of foreign currency keeps currency reserves healthy and helps to reduce the trade deficit. Remittance money is an important contributor both to the Nepalese economy and its reserves. This doesn’t come without its share of demerits though. In the long run, the economy is likely to suffer due to a lack of local manpower in the country. Workers will be scarce and this will have an even larger effect if emigrants have a higher level of skill sets. The trend of emigration today is heading towards this direction, which is a dangerous sign for the health of our economy.

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Photo by the Republica

What’s wrong with Nepal?

The International Organisation for Migration (IOM)’s migration profile for Nepal lays out the main factors that affect the scale of international migration from Nepal. All of these have significant effects on the number of people going abroad from Nepal.

Environmental Vulnerability

The report outlines that people tend to emigrate because of the frequency of natural disasters like floods, earthquakes, and landslides in Nepal. This is coupled with a significant risk of man-made disasters and instability which pushes people to travel abroad. Migrants seek a sustainable and stable life by going abroad.

Emigration in Nepal: Why so many Nepalese go abroad
Locals observe flooded river in Kalanki, on Friday, July 12, 2019. Courtesy: Bikash Adhikari

Open Border

Nepal’s border with India also plays an integral role in pushing people outwards. The IOM reports cite the following data for migrant workers going to India.

“The 2011 census data shows that nearly two fifths (37.2%) of the Nepali absentees are in India, however, such data has its limitations in the case of an open border where crossing can be short-term or seasonable and will be undocumented.”

Lack of proper job opportunities

The unemployment rate of Nepal in 2019 stood at 1.41%. This isn’t a big number by any means. However, when we look into the working conditions of Nepali workers and how much pay they get, you start seeing what the problem really is.

Nepali workers are grossly underpaid and harshly exploited. Workers, hence, look for jobs abroad because even if they are exploited, the pay compared to Nepal would still be much higher. For higher-skilled manpower, the remuneration gap abroad compared to Nepal is also HUGE. This results in an outflow of both unskilled and skilled manpower to countries with better pay.

Emigration in Nepal: Why so many Nepalese go abroad
Photo by the Himalayan Times

What’s so good abroad?

This section is especially relevant to youth and the younger generation who are rapidly going abroad. Even the young social elites of Nepal seek employment in other countries, not because Nepal is bad but because abroad is better.

1. Infrastructure

It goes without saying that foreign countries provide the physical infrastructure that simply cannot be compared to what Nepal has to offer. Ease of life, streamlined and convenient lifestyle are among a few of the benefits foreign countries have to offer. This is especially attractive to youths who have little emotional connection back home. This means they will be inclined to leave Nepal and enjoy everything foreign countries have to offer.

Emigration in Nepal: Why so many Nepalese go abroad
Photo by Setopati

Educational opportunities

Education is Nepal is next to pathetic. Facilities are scarce, faculty is grossly underpaid and most importantly politics is relevant everywhere. Frequent student union strikes, teacher union strikes, other political interference regularly affect the educational standard in Nepal.

Foreign countries, on the other hand, offer world-class education with prices that the Nepali upper middle class and above can afford. In any economy, the middle-class is arguably the most important source for manpower. When middle-class students go abroad in search of better education, they are obviously more like to settle there. This leads to emigration that hits the Nepali economy right in its core. Youth leave Nepal to study but stay there to work, and home is left empty.

Emigration in Nepal: Why so many Nepalese go abroad

To conclude

Youths leaving Nepal is very worrying about the long-term health of our economy. The IOM recommends skill development and capacity building programs right here in Nepal to solve this ongoing crisis. Improving education facilities and removing political interference from education is also equally important. All in all, these measures, if implemented properly, are likely to improve our emigration numbers.

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