The government’s proposed changes to Immigration Procedures, 2008, which requires English language skills, a School Leaving Certificate, and an insurance scheme of Rs. 2 million to travel on visit visas is a plainly ridiculous and ill-thought-out decision. But before we dive into the details of the proposed changes, let us all remember that every Nepali is entitled to the right to freedom of movement. The proposed changes aimed at making it difficult for citizens to leave the country as they wish directly infringes upon our human rights.
The proposed changes seemingly stemmed from an unusual spike observed lately in the number of Nepalis leaving the country on visit visas. The government argues its proposed changes will control human trafficking and curb the practice of working abroad on visit visas. Firstly, contrary to what is intended, the proposed laws would result in travelers being subjected to the discretion of immigration officials at the airport. Nepali women, like me, are already familiar with the unreasonable scrutiny we face from immigration officials at the airport. The immigration officials refuse permission to travel for women travelers if they only doubt that they could be trafficked. If subjected to such discretionary restriction by the official, it is up to women to prove otherwise. As in this case, the explanation presented by the officials for not allowing women to leave the country is that a significant number of Nepali women are trafficked every year.
The government has failed to investigate the foreign employment agencies involved in sending workers abroad on visit visas and crack down on human trafficking networks. The government needs to redirect its focus on curbing the collusion between recruitment agencies, immigration officials, and traffickers that are responsible for such from such nefarious activities. Without investigating these individual cases and prosecuting those involved in aiding these individuals, the Department of Immigration’s step in making migration laws more strict cannot protect Nepali citizens.
If these measures are implemented, those who cannot comply with these requirements will be forced to find unlawful ways to go abroad, either via bribing the immigration officials or traveling through other routes, which only makes them further vulnerable to exploitation and human trafficking. As we have seen in the case of the ban on Nepali citizens (read women) traveling to the Gulf as domestic workers, measures such as these only forces people to take unsafe routes to reach foreign countries. One would expect the government to have learned its lesson already. If not, what motivates the Department of Immigration to take these unnecessary measures. Perhaps, proposed measures will create avenues for rent-seeking for our bureaucrats.
Many Nepalis go abroad on visit visas to meet their relatives, for work-related reasons, and for travel. As a citizen of a low-income country, securing a visit visa is already costly for Nepalis. With the requirement of an insurance scheme of Rs. 2 million, the government is only adding to the already high costs, which is simply unfair to citizens. As the lawmaker Gagan Thapa said in his tweet, “Nepalis should not have to bear the cost of government’s incompetence.”