Perhaps the most popular song in Nepal right now is Suna Saili, in which a young man working in Qatarthinks of his wife back home and tells her to persevere until he comes back.

The song, which has more than 14 million views on YouTube, has hit a chord with ordinary Nepalis.

Every day, about 1,600 Nepali men and women leave the country, mostly for Malaysia and the Gulf countries.

qatar airways

In the past decade, Nepal’s Department of Foreign Employment has issued more than 3.5 million labour permits for men and women to go work.

The money they send home has been the backbone of Nepal’s economy – 31.3 percent of the GDP is supported by the remittances sent by these foreign workers.

The new wealth is visible across Nepal – small villages have turned into towns and private schools, clinics and shops have mushroomed across the country.

With Nepal’s unemployment rate currently hovering at 40 percent, many young men and women say their only option is to find work abroad.

For this, they are willing to pay a high price and many fall through the cracks.

More than 1,000 men leave Nepal every day in search of work [Subina Shrestha/Al Jazeera]

At the Department of Foreign Employment, workers can lodge official complaints against individuals and agencies.

There is always a crowd of people, most angry and upset, hanging around the area.

Suresh Prasad Shah has been coming to the capital Kathmandu for days.

He went to Malaysia four months ago to work in a garment factory and was promised $380 a month for his work. He paid $900 to the recruiting agency in Kathmandu for the job and $200 for medical tests.

When he reached Malaysia, there was no garment factory. He was taken to a store and given a new contract for $250.

The company told him he would get just $100 per month for six months – a deduction of the amount they claimed they spent for visas, tickets and medical tests.

“When I said I wanted to leave, they said I had to pay them $1,500 instead,” says Shah.

More than 31 percent of Nepal’s GDP is supported by foreign remittances[Subina Shrestha/Al Jazeera]

Last year, workers registered more than 2,000 complaints ranging from fraud, exploitation, and physical and sexual abuse by middle-men and foreign employment agents at the Department of Foreign Employment. Some 227 workers stranded across the world appealed to the Nepali government to rescue them.

It is precisely for these reasons that a Foreign Employment Welfare Fund was created – a fund each worker pays $15 to.

The fund has the mandate to repatriate stranded and sick workers, and provide compensation to the families.

In a decade, the Welfare Fund has amassed more than $50m. But many complain the money has not been utilised properly.

News about government officials using the fund to go on foreign trips further irks migrants and recruitment agencies.

Who would want to leave home and work so far away, if not for a better life for your wife and children?


For Shah, the fund has not been of any use. After three months of being paid just $100, he decided he had enough.

He went to the Nepali Embassy in Malaysia and got a temporary passport.

He paid $642 for a local agent to get him a ticket. Nobody told him he could appeal for some of that $50m to be used to return.

In 2015, the government passed a policy where migrant workers could no longer be charged for their visas or tickets, a policy that has trapped some workers.

The recruitment agency that Suresh Prasad Shah went through gave him a receipt for only $100 – the amount allowed by the government to charge workers.

“The government officials do not listen to us. They say we have to show receipts. How are we going to get receipts when government doesn’t allow the actual amount to be reflected?” says Shah.

Despite policies meant to protect workers, Shah has fallen into a crack that has driven him to a point of desperation.

He had taken a loan at three percent a month and he has no idea how to repay it.

“Who would want to leave home and work so far away, if not for a better life for your wife and children?” says Shah.

“But now how will I ever support them?”