Labour Minister Karma Dorji

Unlicensed agents taking advantage of overseas employment scheme

Although the government, under the command of His Majesty The King, worked hard to rescue Bhutanese women being trafficked overseas, however, the practice seems to be still continuing in the country. The unlicensed agents are now using different methods to evade the law to send Bhutanese women abroad, using tourist visas.

The overseas scheme was instituted with the core mandate to address the unemployment issue in the country, but the scheme is being exploited to make easy money by unscrupulous agents who are duping women with the offer of well-paying jobs abroad.

It seems the vigorous advocacy and announcements to deter people from such carrying out the deceitful practices are not effective. 

The Ministry of Labour and Human Resources (MoLHR) shared that under the revised SOPs, the people wanting to travel on their own, for employment, will have to get a clearance from MoLHR. However, the women being sent to work abroad on the tourist visa do not have to do the documentation with the ministry.

Labour Minister Karma Dorji said that if someone is going abroad on a tourist visa then MoLHR has no control over it, but if it is for employment purpose then the individual needs to get the clearance from MoLHR.

“The individuals, themselves, have to be sure of the reasons on their travel abroad. Even if a person is going privately for employment, they need to route it through the ministry, and accordingly, their travel will be approved after cross examining the detailed description of the offered jobs,” Lyonpo added.

He further said if a person intentionally skirts the rules and regulations, then there is little the ministry can do. But if the immigration can stop a person from travelling abroad on employment purpose without the mandatory clearance from MoLHR.

However, for those individuals going through an unlicensed agent or who are still unemployed at the destination or who were sent on tourist visa, MoLHR will follow-up with the relevant Bhutanese embassies.

He said, “Our intention is not to bring them back, but to support them and ensure their safety. Nevertheless, if they are harassed in any way, or if we feel that they are exploited then we would ask the embassy’s help, and if needed, we will bring them back.”

Meanwhile, he said that the job seekers should know that they are given enough opportunities under the oversea employment scheme. Moreover, the agent registration is open, yet this deceptive practice is still happening.

“People are not willing to register with the Ministry, and I don’t know why? The registration would give them better protection. They sent people on their own risking individual’s life. And if they keep doing so, despite given opportunities, they shall than be dealt with accordingly,” Lyonpo said.

There is due process to follow to hold one accountable, he said, adding that just for a little commission, the agents are deceiving fellow Bhutanese. The chances of exploitation is high and safety cannot be ensured at all times for illegal workers.

The main motive is to earn a profit, and it seems easier for the unlicensed agents to send people without following certain procedures. If they keep doing that then it would bring major problems in the near future, he said.

 “That act is a great disservice to His Majesty The King, who has always been emphasizing the importance of protecting each other. People have to be mindful before committing such illegal business posing risk to others’ lives,” he said.

If they want to do business then do it legally, wherein nobody is going to stop them from doing. There will be a burden but that is to ensure safety to our own people, and this is the responsibility of every citizen, he added.

On the ministry’s part, he said, “We are trying our best in advocating, emphasizing the risks, and being a small country, I am sure almost everyone would know about this. We also share personal stories to help people understand the situation better.”

MoLHR would support anyone who would come with a complaint along with all the evidences. However, the ministry would validate both the parties and then come to a conclusion. Should there be any clarifications to make, the jobseekers can always approach the ministry.

The safety of Bhutanese workers abroad can be ensured if they follow all the due process and checks with the ministry.

MoLHR plans to keep up the advocacy program to alert and inform the people on all platforms including the social media. The jobseekers, at a same time, have to be mindful and aware, Lyonpo pointed out.

In 2021 to 2022, MoLHR sent 942 jobseekers under the scheme through various licensed agents.

RBP, Department of Law and Order, Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Department of Immigration have rescued 163 Bhutanese women who exploited by their employers abroad. RBP forwarded a few cases to OAG for prosecution, and a few cases of human trafficking are yet to be taken to the court.

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