The National Council’s report on ‘Foreign Workers and Illegal Immigration in the Country’ makes for some alarming reading.
Though it was always known that Bhutan would need tens of thousands of foreign workers mainly in its hydro project sites, the NC report points out some of the pertinent issues surrounding such massive movements of population and so the government’s need to take necessary precautions.
It is also time that DANTAK and IMTRAT register its 5,000 or so non-uniform foreign workers as per Bhutan’s labour and immigration laws. Both the above organizations have done stellar service for Bhutan but they should also appreciate the sensitivity of the situation for a small country with an even smaller population.
The finding that 20,000 day workers enter Bhutan everyday in its border and are not registered is also a matter of concern. There should be a system to track and document these individuals without bringing a halt to economic activities.
However, while the NC report is timely it should not lead to excessive alarmism and worry as Bhutan has a far better immigration system than any other neighboring country.
For instance hydropower workers will come in large numbers but will also leave once the job is done. A good example is the Tala power project.
It is also important to understand that there are certain skilled experts that are an asset to Bhutan’s economy.
There is also a need to look for long term solutions to the problem. One of the main sources of illegal immigration in urban areas is the need for babysitters and maids. Here the Ministry of Labour and other relevant stakeholders should encourage a domestic help industry that is fair and pays well.
In terms of replacing foreign construction workers one strategy would be to go in for massive re-skilling programs coupled with an societal attitude change to blue collar work.
Bhutanese workers just completed two quality bridges on their own. Earlier they completed a traditional wall near Tashichhodzong. Our youth have demonstrated the skills and capacity to work as long as they are paid fairly and treated with respect.
“A simple way to take measure of a country is to look at how many want in.. And how many want out.”