Booster lack strands Israel-bound Nepalis


The fate of 1,000 Nepali caregivers who were ready to fly to Israel to take up their jobs is in limbo because they do not have booster vaccine doses, and travel restrictions following the new omicron strain.

The Nepali caregivers, 70% of whom are women, have all completed their medical tests and are desperate to leave for their well-paying jobs. The Israel government is also eager to allow them into the country where most will be employed in caring for the elderly at home or in hospices.

Israel only allows travellers to enter the country who have valid vaccinations, including booster shots for those who took their second doses more than six months prior. Israel also closed its airports after the omicron scare for two weeks, but that ban will be lifted on 10 December.

“We will do our best so that they will go this month,” Israel’s ambassador to Nepal Hanan Goder told Nepali Times. “But many of them were not vaccinated, others need to get their booster doses since they got their second shots before July.”

Health Minister Birodh Khatiwada indicated on Sunday that Nepal would start offering booster jabs to those with pre-existing medical conditions by end-December who got their second doses more than six months ago. Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba is also said to have instructed the ministry to start providing booster shots.  

Nepal and Israel signed an agreement for caregivers in September 2020, and an implementation protocol in January 2021. The program has selected 1,000 Nepali caregivers for the much sought after jobs in Israeli old-age shelters where they can earn as much as $1,600 a month and where they will be protected by Israel’s strong labour laws.  

Unlike migration to countries such as the Gulf and Malaysia, the selection process for the caregivers to Israel is much more rigorous, requiring caregiver training, a written test and interview. They are finally selected by lucky draw.  

“I put a lot of pressure on myself and I took both morning and evening shifts of the same preparatory course to increase my chances of passing the written exam,” says Rita, one of the caregivers waiting to leave. “My husband would joke that if I prepared as hard for the civil service exams, I could have got a job here.”

Over 26,500 people initially created user IDs on the online application for the openings, but only 7,009 sat for exams in 16 test centres across Kathmandu in September – of them 2,039 were selected for interviews.

The exam itself was made up of 40 multiple choice questions, and another selected caregiver, Neha, found it easier than expected. "They made it easier so that the English language would not be a barrier for those from outside the capital. I appreciated that they tried to make it fair.”

Among those selected for the interview were male applicants like Ramesh, who told us he watched dozens of videos on YouTube for tips on answering technical and personal questions. “Still, I was really nervous in the interview,” he added.  

Neha was asked how she felt about leaving her one-year old son behind if selected. “I had to tell them that I am going precisely for his secure future,” she added.  

Only 1,175 would be chosen by lucky draw from the 1,600 who passed the interview. Some applicants like Padam were just unlucky. Although he scored high in the exam, and his interview went well, his fate hung in the balance because of the lottery.  

Neha, Ramesh and Rita all completed their medical tests last week, but their departure has once more been thrown into uncertainty because of the Covid-related restrictions.

"We have come so far along in the process, but Israel has closed its borders since the new variant appeared. The uncertainty, silence and speculation can be very stressful,” says Rita. “I know I have made it, but I will not be fully confident until my plane actually lands in Israel.”

The caregivers all feel lucky to have been selected, but have no illusions about their jobs and know it will be hard. But it is the prospect of earning much more than a senior minister’s salary in Nepal that pushes them.  

“For someone from my background, it is the kind of money that we may never see otherwise in my lifetime,” says Rita, who previously worked as a teacher and wants to start a Montessori school when she is back in Nepal.