Migration is not a new phenomenon. People have always migrated in search of better opportunities. Migration to India for work has a long history in Nepal, while labor migration to other countries began in the 1990s with the adoption of liberal economic policies. It is difficult to put an exact figure on the number of Nepali migrants travelling to India for work. The World Bank estimates that 867,000 Nepalis are working in India, while others have estimated that by 2010 the number of labour migrants in India was as high as 1.7 million.

Overseas migration (i.e., to countries beyond India) from all parts of Nepal has been rising steadily in recent years. An estimated 400,000 young people enter the labour market each year and, in the absence of decent employment opportunities in Nepal, particularly in rural areas, migration to India and overseas for employment is an attractive option for many youth.

Migrants usually travel alone, while their spouses, children and parents stay in Nepal. A third of all Nepali households, and 35% of rural households, have at least one member working and living abroad. The contribution of migration to the economy of Nepal has increased significantly in the past decade, with close to US$ 3.5 billion received last year. Remittances constitute nearly 23% of GDP. However, most remittances are used by households to cover consumption needs and repayment of debts rather than for investment in productive sectors that can create avenues for breaking the migration cycle and have an impact on the development of Nepal’s economy.

Migrants going overseas are vulnerable to various forms of exploitation during the recruitment process, in transit and destination countries. There are three main types of exploitation of migrants: overcharging of fees by agents; falsifying documents (e.g. employment contracts and travel documents); and trafficking. Other problems migrant workers frequently face are confiscation of their travel documents by local companies and long working hours in bad conditions. About half of returned migrants report that, once in the host country, they did not have contract letters of employment; and 22% report they did not have official work permits; and around 37% report they did not receive the salary promised. Most Nepali workers who go overseas are illiterate and unskilled, which makes them more vulnerable.

While migration has offered new avenues and income opportunities for migrants, there is a considerable number of trafficking cases, especially of women, in relation to migration to India and Gulf countries. Reports indicate that 10,000–15,000 persons (mostly women and children) are trafficked every year for commercial sex and forced labourMany of these girls find themselves infected with HIV.Seasonal labour migration to India has also emerged as a major factor driving the localized HIV epidemic in Nepal.

Migration also affects those who remain at home. As a large percentage of youth leave the country for work, the elderly, women and children are left behind in a socially and economically insecure environment. The disruption of family relationships affects women disproportionately.

According to the Foreign Employment Regulations 2008, pre-departure orientation to facilitate better informed decision-making is mandatory and free for overseas migrants. There are safe houses and labour attachés for Nepali migrant workers in four destination countries. The National Plan of Action to Combat Trafficking of Women and Children is currently under review. The Foreign Employment Tribunal and Foreign Employment Promotion Board were established to oversee the welfare and protection of migrants and to provide access to justice. Other initiatives include a compensation package for migrant workers returning to Nepal as a result of the global economic crisis, the establishment of Migrant Resource Centres in Kathmandu and other districts to provide accurate information to migrants. The Council for Technical Education and Vocational Training is providing skills testing and accreditation.