Social Science Baha
Official

The Political Economy of Migration Process: A ‘Distorted’ Rational Choice of Nepali Labour Migrants

Sanjay Sharma

The number of Nepali youth seeking foreign employment overseas, especially in the Gulf countries and Malaysia, is higher now than in any other time in history; this accounts for the escalating volume of remittance received by the country, which is also at a record high. Among the various frameworks that have been put forward to explain the causes of labour migration, the ‘Rational Choice Theory’ is one such approach that has gained much acclaim. In this context, the theory claims that the labour migrants calculate the costs and benefits of migration before going abroad for employment and decide ‘rationally’ to migrate. It therefore follows that a labour migrant’s decision to go abroad is made on the rationale that it is more beneficial to work abroad than inside the country. In Nepal’s context, however, the ‘rationality’ behind the decision-making of aspiring migrants is highly distorted, mainly due to the false information and promises provided by informal service providers, mainly consisting of national and local agents. The inaccuracy of migrants’ pre-departure cost-benefit calculations is recognised or realised only after they experience different terms and conditions at destination countries, such as lower wages than previously agreed. Furthermore, while on the one hand the interest on the debt taken to go abroad keeps increasing, on the other hand, all their earnings are spent in meeting the household expenses and paying back the borrowed sum.

This paper, therefore, re-examines the ‘reasons’ through which potential migrants decide to go abroad and seeks to assess how the ‘Rational Choice Theory’ figures in this context where many of the migrants who decide to go abroad are misinformed by informal agents. This situation is further complicated by the absence of government agencies at the local level, where aspiring migrants can attest the information that they are provided with. The findings are based on 50 in-depth interviews conducted in four districts of Nepal with aspiring migrants, migrant returnees, and the families of the migrants interviewed. Various other stakeholders such as government officials, non-government organisation workers, members of the civil society, lawyers, and staff of recruitment agencies were also consulted. The study finds that although there is a series of cost-benefit calculations done prior to migration, the plan in most of the cases fails primarily due to the ‘distortion’ in the rational choice of the migrants and the absence of governmental mechanisms to check these distortions.