Many migrant workers in South Asia have been laid off or have been unable to return to their previous jobs due to the pandemic, which has been a cruel blow to the region’s economy.
A large number of migrant workers from countries such as Bangladesh, India, and Nepal work in these countries and send millions of dollars back home each year. However, over the course of the past year, many have lost their jobs and have been forced to return to their countries of origin. Others are still employed or have found new positions, but are having difficulty making travel arrangements to take up the positions.
The scarcity of Covid-19 vaccines has exacerbated the situation, with many countries requiring migrant workers to be immunised in order to avoid quarantine or, in some cases, to be allowed to enter at all.
migrant worker Ajay Sodari from Kathmandu, Nepal, said, “I spent four years studying the Korean language in order to be selected as a qualified worker in language tests and to sign a labour agreement with the company.” Sodari is required to be vaccinated before beginning work in South Korea. In his statement, he stated that he had spent thousands of dollars to meet the requirements for employment, but that the pandemic had “shattered my dream.”
The lack of vaccines has been most acute in Bangladesh and Nepal, both of which planned to source most of their doses from neighbouring India until New Delhi stopped vaccine exports this spring to prioritise its own citizens. According to a database maintained by the New York Times, only about 3 percent of the population in Bangladesh and Nepal has received all of their vaccinations.
Workers from abroad were not prioritised during the initial phases of the vaccination campaign in Nepal, a country where inward remittances account for one-quarter of the country’s gross domestic product. The campaign instead favoured older adults, frontline health workers, security personnel, and senior government officials. Nepal’s government has approved a final work permit for as many as 35,000 migrant workers, according to the Nepal Association of Foreign Employment Agencies. However, the workers are unable to leave the country until the work permit is approved. According to the organisation, most countries have stopped recruiting workers from Nepal because they are not vaccinated against diseases.
According to Shahidul Alam, director general of the Bureau of Manpower Employment and Training, a government agency, at least 90,000 migrant workers in Bangladesh are awaiting vaccinations before they can begin working in foreign countries. Among other things, Mr. Alam stated that Bangladesh was increasing its vaccination efforts among migrant workers, including the introduction of an application.
“At least 45,000 workers have registered in the app in the last seven days, and the vaccination process for them has already begun,” he said on Thursday.
The situation of the workers is made more difficult by the fact that the countries to which they are travelling sometimes require specific vaccinations. None of the most common destinations for Bangladeshi migrant workers, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, recognise the Sinopharm vaccine, which is manufactured in China and on which Bangladesh has come to rely for mass immunisation.
Using vaccine doses obtained through the Covax global vaccine-sharing programme and administered at seven health facilities in Dhaka, the country’s capital city, the government of Bangladesh is providing assistance to stranded workers who have been exposed to the Pfizer virus. Workers would also benefit from the 2.5 million doses of Moderna vaccine that Covax received from the United States earlier this month as part of their partnership with the company, according to Alam.
Some states in India, which has the world’s largest migrant population with nearly 18 million people, are suffering from vaccine shortages that are worse than in others. Kerala, in India’s southern state of Kerala, is the state with the greatest number of migrants, with nearly four million Keralites living in other countries. Despite the fact that the state has recently prioritised vaccination for migrants, many claim they have been stranded in India for months, unable to return to their jobs and fearing that their visas will expire before they can return.
He has been waiting in Kerala for nearly nine months to be allowed to return to Kuwait, where he owns a business that sells automotive lubricants. Hanees Babu is 52 years old. The AstraZeneca vaccine has been administered to him in two doses; however, this does not necessarily mean that his problems have been resolved. Because the vaccine is known as Covishield in India, the name on his vaccination certificate may be confusing to people outside of the country. The Delhi High Court has recently directed the central government to consider including the AstraZeneca name on vaccination certificates in order to make it easier for people to travel abroad with their vaccination certificates.
Kerala’s state government has already begun issuing vaccination certificates bearing the AstraZeneca logo, but these must be requested separately from the rest of the certificates. People who wanted to travel abroad said that having two different vaccination certificates made the process more difficult, and that this had led some countries to stop processing visa applications from India entirely as a result of this.
Shalini Venugopal Bhagat contributed reporting from Goa, India; Bhadra Sharma contributed reporting from Kathmandu, Nepal; and Saif Hasnat contributed reporting from Dhaka, Bangladesh.