8,606 Bhutanese have left for the Middle East

The Middle East’s strong infrastructure and rapid development projects have created a demand for skilled and semi-skilled workers, which Bhutanese individuals who meet the requirements are eager to fill.

The ability to send remittances back home to support their families and contribute to Bhutan’s economy is another motivating factor for many Bhutanese workers.

However, this growing trend is not without its challenges. Language barriers, cultural difference, and the risk of exploitation are significant concerns for Bhutanese workers.

The Ministry of Industry, Commerce and Employment (MoICE) in collaboration with the registered agencies have been working to address these issues by providing pre-departure briefing for both the candidates and their guardians to prepare the candidates mentally and inform them of the know-hows of the destination country.

The ministry is actively engaged in protecting the rights and welfare of Bhutanese working there, and efforts are being made to establish bilateral agreements with countries in the Middle East to safeguard the rights of Bhutanese workers, ensuring their fair treatment, wages and access to healthcare.

According to MoICE, since the inception of the Overseas Employment Program in 2013, 8,606 Bhutanese have gone to the Middle East as of June 2023 of which 6,082 are in Kuwait, 884 in Qatar, 1,413 in UAE, 203 in Bahrain and 24 in Oman.

The most common sector of employment is the hospitality, sales and retail sectors.

Reasons cited for going by the past candidates as per the Overseas Employment Program monitoring report 2023 are due to financial problems, low wages in the country and seeking better employment prospects.

The placement of job seekers overseas for employment is carried out either directly through MoICE or through the Registered Bhutan Overseas Employment Agencies (RBOEAs) which reduces the risk of Bhutanese getting exploited and duped by illegal agents.

All foreign employers are required to submit their vacancies to the MoICE or RBOEAs which would be attested by the public notary body of the destination country to ensure authenticity of all vacancies.

The ministry ensures that all such vacancies provide good earning opportunities for the youth, provides learning opportunities and safe working environment.

The candidates along with their guardians are provided with a pre-departure briefing by the Department of Employment and Entrepreneurship (DoEE), MoICE and the ministry also conducts regular monitoring of the overseas workers.

Frequent sensitization on various media platforms is carried out to ensure that the general audience are informed of the risks associated with opting for overseas employment through illegal channels.

The ministry has also developed the Overseas Employment Portal which will be a platform for meaningful interaction with the BOWs and have avenues for complaints response mechanism.

With the objective of creating a dynamic Bhutanese workforce capable of catering to the demands for foreign workers in overseas job markets through safe, secure, satisfying and career-building experience, the department has developed the National Strategy on Overseas Employment (NSOE) with three strategic objectives namely, Strategic Objective 1, focusing on the strengthening and improved governance of overseas job placements. Strategic Objective 2 detailing the measures to ensure harmonized support and protection of Bhutanese working overseas. Strategic objective 3 concerning instituting a responsive reintegration program.

In line with the NSOE, the department is also developing a National Reintegration Program which will also ensure meaningful engagement of BOWs upon their return.

The ministry states, “Candidates are able to gain skills and knowledge. They are also able to gain financial independence. Upon completion of their employment contract, they return to the country to contribute towards economic growth.”

The Wangchuk Overseas Employment Agent’s Executive Director stated that they are a registered agent, and if incase any individuals face issues in the working company abroad, they are responsible. They ensure that no individuals face any problems while their stay.

“The working package also comes with free accommodations and pick-drop system. Those who are not able to afford to go to Australia, prefer going to the Middle East, looking for better opportunities and exposures. The level of confidence and skilled gained by the individuals who come back after completion of their contract work greatly improves.”

Rumi Overseas Employment Agency mentioned that most of the individuals applying through them prefer going to Kuwait.

“Most individuals who does not fulfil Australian criteria apply for the Middle East. In Kuwait, with free accommodation, transportation and meals allowance is provided by the employers. Most Bhutanese go for Kuwait as the KD currency is high and more savings can be done as there are no nightclubs, bars and discotheques in the city, and alcohol consumption is banned in all forms within the country.”

The minimum qualification of individuals applying to the Middle East must be at least grade 10 graduates with the age below 27.

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