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Migrant workers can use foreign governments’ amnesties to return without legal hassles

Nepal should utilise these relaxations by labour hosting nations to bring citizens home, experts say.

Chandan Kumar Mandal
The Kathmandu Post
20 May 2020

More and more countries employing Nepali migrants are coming up with general amnesties for illegal expats in their soil, which undocumented and illegal workers can use to legally exit those countries.

In the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic and fast multiplying cases, several labour hosting countries have relaxed their immigration laws in a bid to encourage illegally staying foreign nationals to use the scheme and return home.

Last week, the United Arab Emirates government announced that all visa rule violators would be exempted from fines if they decide to leave the country.

According to the decision, foreigners whose UAE visa or residency permits expired before March 1, 2020 are not required to pay the fines. Migrants utilising the scheme will not have to pay fines on expired Emirates ID and work permits.

Later, the UAE government also said that those whose fines are waived and leave the Emirates after May 18 could also return to the country in future as they will not be blacklisted from re-entering the UAE.

According to Arjun Kharel, a labour migration researcher at the Centre for the Study of Labour and Mobility, a think tank, several labour receiving countries providing such relaxations can benefit Nepali workers as well.

“These countries have started giving general amnesty to foreign workers on the humanitarian ground which can be utilised by undocumented Nepali workers,” said Kharel. “This also benefits labour destination countries in labour management during this global health crisis. They know holding a large number of workers can also result in a spike in cases.”

Countries like the UAE, KuwaitMalaysia and Bahrain have given such respite for workers who are undocumented or have overstayed. Nearly 3,500 Nepali workers have already applied for the amnesty offered by the Kuwaiti government, which is also said to have promised flights for their repatriation.

In the past, Nepali workers have utilised such schemes and returned home without having to face any legal actions.

“Our government should utilise such schemes and bring workers under such amnesties,” said Kharel. “We can bring them and keep them in quarantine here in Nepal. We cannot stop those who want to return home as job opportunities have also shrunk in those countries.”

Since the pandemic has hit these countries in the Persian Gulf and Malaysia, a large number of Nepali workers have lost their jobs and are struggling for food. A significant number of them want to return home.

According to Prakash Bhandari, a Nepali migrant in Dubai, the situation of Nepali workers is worsening every day as they wish to return home soon.

“The number of workers whose visas have expired has undoubtedly increased in this period. The UAE government introduced the scheme, but our country should make a way so that Nepali workers can return,” Bhandari told the Post over the phone from Dubai.

“With increasing cases of Covid-19 in the UAE, Nepali workers are worried about their life. We are ready to stay in quarantine too,” said Bhandari. “Nepali workers are even ready to pay for their flights. But we don’t know what the Nepal government is doing. They should be acting like our guardian.”

The government has said Nepali workers will be repatriated. Undocumented workers, and those with health issues and family problems back home will be given priority. However, prolonged lockdown and suspension of flights mean their repatriation is nowhere close.

Experts like Kharel say the lockdown can be a suitable time to repatriate workers. “The government can arrange flights even now as it can manage the lockdown. Flights have been coming and going in this period as well,” he said. 

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