Dealing with the Brain Drain

How can Nepal Stop the Human Capital Flight?

the HRM
Every 2/3 months, the Lalitpur-based Star Hospital announces vacancies to hire nurses. “The number of nurses opting for foreign employment is so high that the hospital has to hire new nurses every two-three months,” said Kishore Maharjan, chairperson of the hospital.

Though there is limited availability of nurses in Nepal, the government is planning to send 10,000 nurses to the United Kingdom for employment within a year.

“Private sector companies have become like training centers. After working for some months in the companies here, new recruits fly abroad for higher studies and employment. It has been really tough to find skilled human resources in Nepal,” expressed Bhawani Rana, immediate past president of the Federation of Nepalese Chamber of Commerce and Industries (FNCCI).

Suman Pokharel, CEO of IME Limited, observes that it has become tough for private sector institutions to find quality human resources lately. “After the pandemic, we realized there is a severe crisis of quality human resources in the market. There is a huge gap in demand and supply of quality human resources,” he said.
The experiences shared by Maharjan, Rana and Pokharel are a few examples that show how the Nepali private sector is reeling under the shortage of workforce. In the last two decades, Nepal has become an exporter of skilled, semi-skilled and unskilled workers. As a huge chunk of the young population is abroad for their higher studies and they don’t want to return home, Nepal is facing a serious brain drain.

Members of the Nepali business community fear that the problem will only worsen as the government is readying to sign labor agreements with several countries to send skilled workers for employment.

In its quest to find new labor destinations, the government is signing labor pacts with the United Kingdom, Portugal, Israel, among a few other countries, to send skilled human resources.

The preliminary report of the National Census-2021 shows that 2,169,478 Nepalis are residing abroad. And the number is increasing every day. According to Pushpa Raj Shahi, chief immigration officer at TIA Immigration Office, at least 3,000 Nepalis are flying abroad every day. “Even during the pandemic, the number has not declined. The majority of Nepalis flying abroad are students and migrant workers,” he informed.

Why are Nepalis moving out?
Dr Raghu Bir Bista, an economist and an assistant professor at Patan Campus, observes that there is no immediate solution to check the brain drain. “Nepal has failed to create better opportunities for skilled youths. The government has even failed to utilize the unskilled workforce in development activities. If the government tries to stop foreign migration, the inflow of remittance will be impacted. And if doesn’t, there will be a serious dearth of the workforce in the country,” said Dr Bista.
Dr Bista says that several factors have contributed to the flight of human resources. According to him, the education system and the political instability in Nepal are the major reasons behind this problem. “Once the students go abroad, they generally don’t come back as income and opportunities abroad are incomparable with Nepal. And even the unskilled workers earn much higher in destinations like Malaysia and Gulf countries,” he mentioned.

As per the Labor Report of the government, Nepal’s unemployment rate stands at 11.4 percent at present. The unemployment rate is highest among young people aged 15-24 and 25-34 years.

“When the unemployment rate is so high, the active population migrates. And ultimately the economy suffers,” opined Dr Bista.
It is believed that almost 500,000 youths enter the job market every year in Nepal.

“Why would youths want to return after the completion of their higher studies if there is no merit-based system in the country? People who are getting better opportunities in Nepal are those who have good political and corporate connections,” said Dr Bista.

A Country Growing Old 
The preliminary report of the National Census-2021 shows Nepal’s population grew by an average of 0.93 percent, the slowest growth in 80 years. This means Nepal will have an older population than young people in the next two decades, say economists.

For many years, Nepal enjoyed the advantage of having a massive young population. “Now the country has 2/3 decades left for utilizing the young populace. After this period, Nepal will have more old people, so the government must plan at the earliest,” suggests Dr Bista.

According to FNCCI’s Immediate Past President Bhawani Rana, the government has failed to convert the available human resources into human capital despite the country having a huge young population. “The preliminary Census report shows some shocking results. Nepal is growing old, and population growth has slowed. Now the time has come for the government to act decisively,” said Rana.

As many developed countries are aging rapidly, they are likely to take young minds and skilled workers from countries like Nepal in huge numbers in the future. The exodus of youths from the country has led to a situation where there is a decline in fertility as many young men and women are already outside the country or are planning to fly abroad.

Experts see this situation as worrisome situations. “Once Nepal’s population grows old in 2/3 decades, old people would have little to no contribution to the economy, and spending would increase more on health care,” predicts Dr. Bista.

“It is not possible to stop developed economies from providing job opportunities to young people from countries like Nepal. As a result of foreign employment, it has been really tough to find skilled manpower in Nepal,” said Rana, who is involved in the hotel business.

Govt has No Plans
In Nepal, ‘employment generation’ has become a cliche as politicians and people in the bureaucracy have been saying this for decades without producing any noticeable results.

The National Planning Commission (NPC), the apex advisory body of the government for formulating a national vision, periodic plans and policies, has no concrete answers to the questions related to the ongoing brain drain.

“The government has prioritized the agriculture sector and has been providing subsidized commercial loans for youths. In the 15th periodic plan, the government has plans to stop youths from migrating for foreign employment,” said Dil Bahadur Gurung, spokesperson of NPC.

Targeting the unemployed youths, the government has implemented the Prime Minister Employment Program (PMEP) in 2019, he said. But even the officials at NPC, under the condition of anonymity, said that such programs are useless, and just a means to provide money to party cadres.

“In the name of PMEP, local governments are distributing money to party cadres. A huge financial resource of the country is being wasted. The program has no contribution in stopping youths from migrating. It is not even helping the unemployed,” a high-ranking official at the NPC told the HRM.

According to Dr Gurung, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs has set up a ‘brain drain center’ to collect the data of Nepalis working abroad. “The data, collected by the center, is being analyzed,” he said, adding that the government must improve the whole education system before thinking about solving the flight of human capital.
Even though Nepal is already facing a dearth of workers, the government is searching for new labor destinations to send Nepali workers abroad. The government is signing labor agreements with some European countries, including the United Kingdom to send high-skilled workers.

“Nepal already has fewer nurses. Even in this situation, the government, without any consultations with the stakeholders, is sending 10,000 nurses to the UK. The decision will hit the healthcare system hard,” said Kishore Maharjan.

What is the solution?
For a developing country like Nepal, skilled, semi-skilled as well as unskilled workforce is required to achieve higher and sustainable economic growth. To stop the flight of human capital, the government should create better opportunities in the country, while there should be enough development projects to stop the migration of unskilled workforce, say stakeholders.

“Both the private sector and the government should work together to enhance the quality of unskilled workers. The problem is that the government doesn’t have data of human resources in Nepal,” said Rana, adding that the government must establish a research and development (R&D) unit at the earliest.
According to stakeholders, declining quality of education, merit-less systems and politics in the workplace have resulted in the flight of human capital. “The government doesn’t identify and encourage brilliant students in universities. Providing lucrative job opportunities to brilliant minds, funding students for research, and removing politics from education will encourage youths,” said Dr Bista.

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