The Qatar job mirage

I am a Lionel Messi fan. In fact, I might be one of Messi's biggest fans in the world.

Someday, after he retires and when I am convinced that a tattoo will not affect my employment prospects, I am going to ink Messi on my arm. I have even selected a picture which captures a very iconic moment in football history (see pic) when he scored a goal in the very last minute against Real Madrid.

He has inspired me through and through. Not just with his sportsmanship and genius on the football field, but as a wholesome, likeable individual.

When I applied for this job in the Qatar Police in 2020, it was of course for a better salary than I am getting in Nepal. But a small part of me also relished the possibility of seeing Messi in Qatar during the FIFA World Cup.

During one of my flights of fancy, I would picture myself taking a selfie with him. I know that is far-fetched, but just watching him play in one of the stadiums that our Nepali brothers helped build did not seem impossible. You never know, I used to tell myself.

A friend with ties to a manpower company approached me and told me about the job openings for Qatar Police. At first, I was not interested because I did not just want to go to the Gulf or Malaysia. I had my sights set on Australia or Canada, where I could also migrate with my wife and children.

But the friend convinced me that this was not like any other job in the Gulf. It was with the Qatar Police and I could earn up to Rs300,000 a month with other perks, including a pension. It was of course going to come at a cost. The recruiters wanted Rs1 million.

As someone who is familiar with the inner workings of foreign employment, I was aware of two things: not paying the recruiter fee was not an option, and paying too early also carried the risk of losing both the money and the job.

Not paying could mean the job could go to someone else, since the craze for this job in particular was very high. And there was the prospect of being cheated by the manpower company.

So, I made an arrangement with the recruitment agency via my friend that I would only pay once I had the tickets in my hands. Silently, in my mind, I thought I would pay the fee right at the airport before my flight so there would be no room for any hanky-panky.

Others who were on the same boat as me did not think the way I did. I do not know if it is because they did not know any better, or because they were scared of losing the offer. But they paid a large portion of the fee the recruiters demanded upfront. They took out loans long before their paperwork was done. This meant that the interest rate was already adding up even before they got the job.

When I appeared for my interview, it was evident that the Qatari evaluators liked me instantly. I am pretty well built, and can look strong and athletic, just what they were looking for. As someone who has appeared in multiple interviews in the past, both successfully and otherwise, I have a good knack for sensing when luck is in my favour.

This time, I could tell from their nods at my responses, or when I flexed my arm muscles, that I was the kind of candidate they had in mind. They had smiles on their faces as they looked at each other, and spoke with their eyes. My hunch was indeed correct. I was offered the job the same day.

This was not something that I had planned all along. My wife and I planned to go overseas together if we were ever to leave, so she started crying even before I got my visa. With the kind of salary that came with this job, I assured her that I would take her and my family with me to Qatar. My wife could also easily get a job there. We are young and active, what was there to lose? A few years and the savings would set us up for life.

I completed all required paperwork, including the medical exam. With every successful step, I felt closer to a better future and if I was fortunate, to watch Messi play. Just a glimpse to cheer for him, possibly in one of his last games ever, I would think.

But as luck would have it, just when everything was close to completion we found out that the process would not move forward. I was gutted.

The fact that people were being charged very high, especially for a police job, came out in the media. The whole process was then under heavy scrutiny. We were told high level government officials and politicians were involved. The Qataris were also said to be in it. People with insider knowledge including my friend said that up to 40% of what we paid as fee for the jobs were cuts for politicians.

The exposure and scrutiny meant the safer route for all crooks involved was to cancel the whole deal. No one really thought of those of us who had already been selected, and how we felt.

I am well aware that the manpower company, including my friend, were cheating me. But when it all blew up, it did not solve the problem did it?

The solution would have been if I would have got to Qatar as per the fee-visa free-ticket policy, and be currently employed. Forget free-visa free-ticket, even half the market rate in recruiter fee for this job would have helped.

I did not get to go. Am I better off here without that job? Surely not. I am earning a tenth of the salary I could have earned in the Qatar Police. In fact, by now I would have already paid back the loans I would have taken to pay the recruitment costs, and started saving.

Have you ever wondered why those of us who made it through the process are not out in the streets protesting about the high costs we were being demanded, or how devastated we were when the job order got canceled even after all our paperwork was complete?

Because deep inside, we are still hopeful that it will work out. We have not given up the hope that the visas will come. This hope got further strengthened when we heard that Nepal’s new Labour Minister went to Qatar. Perhaps this deadlock will be addressed.

I know a few fellow aspirants who have paid the recruitment company a fee for the jobs that never materialised. Asking for all of it back makes them fear that they will lose the offer if it ever does come.

Leaving a small portion of the money as a security deposit gives them an assurance, perhaps a false one, that they will be in the priority list if the job offer is ever revived.

Sometimes, I feel cheated by the state when I think about all that happened. Politicians at the highest level are not just failing in their duty as protectors of us citizens, they are snatching away even the few opportunities from us. Just so they can fulfill their own greed.

They are not fixing the high recruitment cost problem, but trying to benefit from it.  Or the Qatari authorities who were allegedly trying to get a cut too. The amount of profit that they lost because of the job cancellation, and because people like me could not go, did not make even the slightest dent in their wealth, but imagine how much we lost.

The job orders got cancelled. It was not the cost that got canceled, but the job itself. And who lost? We did. Not those in power. Not the manpower companies. Not Qataris. Just us, who were willing to work hard and do everything it took to improve our lives.

Many of us who go through the interviews were former police and army folks.

When the recruiters asked for payment in exchange for jobs, we were being cheated. We know that. We are not naive, we weighed our options. Against all odds stacked against us – our poverty, low salaries that make living in Kathmandu challenging — we decided to take the risk. The Rs1 million that the manpower agent, who represented all the powers that be, asked for the job seemed like our only way out.

I agreed to pay what was demanded. Only a fool would be willing to pay, if not paying was also an option. I know I deserved the job. The Qataris were impressed with my credentials. The fee I was paying was not to buy myself into a job that I was unqualified for, but simply to get a foothold for an interview to prove my worth.

I still have hopes of joining the Qatar Police. I hope it will be under fairer circumstances in which we are not demanded exorbitant recruitment costs, and the process is transparent.

Translated from a conversation in Nepali.

Diaspora Diaries is a regular column in Nepali Times providing a platform for Nepalis to share their experiences of living, working, studying abroad. Authentic and original entries can be sent to [email protected] with ‘Diaspora Diaries’ in the subject line.

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