Push factors driving Nepalis out

There are fewer incentives for young Nepalis to stay home


Last year, 775,000 Nepalis left for employment abroad, and another 100,000 students flew out to study overseas. Nearly a million young Nepalis left in 2021-22, and that figure does not even include those who went to India. 

This is the largest mass exodus of young Nepalis in the country’s history. No country can sustain such a sustained haemorrhage. 

There are few Nepalis left in villages, and those in cities seem to be mostly waiting for documents to leave. Every day, 3,000 Nepalis leave on student visas from Kathmandu airport. The 2021 census put the country’s absentee population at 2.1 million, and that appears to be a gross underestimate.

“The youth are not keen to stay at home, and their parents do not want them to stay here either,” says sociologist Ganesh Gurung. “It seems as if the entire nation is on the move.”

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An increasing number of Nepalis are leaving to study while working: primarily in Australia, Japan, Europe, and North America. Those who leave face bureaucratic hassles trying to get no-objection certificates, and when they come back they get the run around trying to obtain an equivalency for foreign degrees so they can work here.

Last month, six young Nepalis from Rasuwa left their studies, jobs, and businesses to seek employment in Croatia. “With luck, I can get a PR (Permanent Residency) in some other European country, Croatia is just a stepping stone,” said Bhuvan Neupane, one of the six.

Elsewhere in Nuwakot’s Bidur village, Binod Poudel is hoping to go abroad and has handed his passport to a foreign employment agent. “All my friends have left Nepal,” he says. “What am I supposed to do here?”

Aakriti Timilsina is a high school graduate, and has given up on college in Nepal and is preparing to study in either Canada or Australia by working part-time there.

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A recent study by the online platform Studyportals revealed that Nepali students make up 14.3% of international students across the world.

Sociologist Dinesh Prasain notes that a lack of employment and meaningful earnings are the primary reasons for the young to leave. Basic items have become unaffordable even in fixed-income households.

But there are other push factors as well: peer pressure, falling living standards, and a growing hopelessness that the future will be better because of corruption and political disarray. 

At the end of the Maoist insurgency in 2006, there was expectation that stability would yield a peace dividend. But Nepali politics remains in the stranglehold of tried, tested and failed leaders. Volatile and populist behaviour of new elected leaders has disappointed many young people, while some parties resort to religion and bigotry. 

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Young Nepalis enthusiastically voted for alternative candidates in the 2022 local and federal polls, but mayors Harka Sampang and Balen Shah have been more adept at posting inflammatory comments on social media than actually delivering on election promises.

This week Shah made outright threats to burn down Singha Darbar because the car carrying his wife was stopped for speeding. The post got millions of shares and likes before he took it down. Many also took the outburst as a sign that the Kathmandu mayor offers no real hope of reform.

A series of corruption scandals from fake refugees, the Baluwatar land scam, gold smuggling and politicians trying to protect each other by transferring police investigators has added to the public disillusionment.

“Nepali society has lost faith in politics and the leadership to make things better,” explains sociologist Dinesh Prasain. “Nepali parents  would rather their children go somewhere better, and youngsters do not want to remain in what they see as a sinking ship.”

Read also: False equivalence in Nepal academia, Aastha Dahal

Nepalis are lining up to fight in foreign armies, and even recruited themselves into both sides of the Russia-Ukraine war because of the promise of earnings and citizenship.

This movement is helping keep Nepal’s economy afloat. Remittances contributed significantly to lowering Nepal’s poverty rate to below 17%, but over the long-term the cost of losing such a large proportion of the working age population is incalculable. 

Some 65% of Nepal’s total population is in the 15-64 age group, and Nepal is losing this demographic advantage. The country has only one-and-a-half decades left to take advantage of an active youth workforce.

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Sociologist Dinesh Prasain describes the exit of young Nepalis as a moral crisis: “It is a failure of the political leadership. A country without its youth has lost its soul.”

Meanwhile, Nepal’s politicians are just mouthing platitudes. Finance Minister Prakash Sharan Mahat last week urged young Nepalis to “change their mindset”, even arguing that Nepali students should be barred from studying abroad.

Economist Pushkar Bajracharya says that there has to be a step-by-step strategy to create opportunities for Nepalis at home in order to prevent a brain and brawn drain: “If out-migration continues to grow as this pace, we are not only looking at a socio-economic crisis but also a threat to our sovereignty.” 

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