Syndicates Exploiting Health Screening for Foreign Employment in Nepal: A Crisis Demanding Urgent Action

This investigative report uncovers the alarming role of middlemen and syndicates in exploiting Nepal’s mandatory health screening process for foreign employment aspirants. Learn how they inflate costs, compromise quality, and endanger workers’ health.

Health Screening for Foreign Employment in Nepal: A System Under Siege

Kathmandu, Nepal – Each year, over half a million Nepalis venture abroad for employment or education, and mandatory pre-departure health screenings are a crucial step in this process. However, a deeply rooted system of middlemen and syndicates is manipulating this essential service, leading to exploitation and compromise of workers’ health.

Mandatory, but with Strings Attached

The Ministry of Health and Population has designated 212 health institutions for conducting these screenings, with the government-mandated fee set at 6,500 Nepali rupees. Yet, these institutions are often bypassed due to the influence of middlemen, referred to as “bichauliya”.

Aspiring migrant workers find themselves at the mercy of syndicates that have monopolized the process. For instance, workers heading to Malaysia can only undergo health checks at 38 specific clinics chosen by a Malaysian private company, Bestinet. Similarly, those destined for Gulf countries must use one of the 17 health institutions affiliated with the Gulf Approved Medical Centers Association (GAMCA).

Exploitation and Exorbitant Fees

These restrictions not only limit choices but also open the doors to exploitation. Middlemen charge exorbitant fees, sometimes 10 to 20 times the government-mandated rate. In the case of Qatar, workers are often referred to Chirayu Hospital in Basundhara after initial screenings, facing an additional fee of 7,000 rupees for a single test.

Testimonies of Exploitation

Bham Bahadur Ale, a resident of Kavre, shared his experience of being overcharged at Chirayu Hospital after a referral from the Qatar Visa Center. Despite the government-set fee, he had to pay 7,000 rupees for a chest X-ray due to a perceived anomaly.

Ishwar Shrestha, Senior Vice President of the Nepal Medical Business Association, highlighted how these syndicates have created a hostile environment for independent healthcare providers, even those meeting government standards. He emphasized the need for a software-based regulatory system to curb these malpractices.

Unfair Practices and Lack of Transparency

Navaraj Paudel, General Secretary of the Association, further revealed that only 75% of workers actually undergo health checks at accredited facilities. The remaining 25% reportedly obtain certificates through unethical means, bypassing proper medical examinations.

The Association is advocating for the implementation of iris recognition systems at each facility to ensure the person undergoing the screening is indeed the applicant, thereby eliminating middlemen’s involvement.

Government’s Response and the Way Forward

Minister for Labor, Employment, and Social Security, DP Aryal, has acknowledged the issue and emphasized the importance of ethical practices. He has cautioned that the government will not hesitate to take action against those who violate the law and assured efforts to improve the situation.

The stakeholders emphasize the urgency of addressing these issues. They propose implementing a technology-driven system with iris recognition to enhance transparency and accountability. The goal is to eliminate middlemen, ensure fair pricing, and protect the health and well-being of aspiring overseas workers.

In conclusion, the current pre-departure health screening system in Nepal is plagued by middlemen and syndicates, leading to exploitation and potential health risks for workers. Urgent reforms are necessary to establish a transparent, efficient, and ethical system that prioritizes the health and safety of those seeking employment opportunities abroad.

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