Destination Australia – The coin’s two sides

9,876 Bhutanese deployed abroad as overseas workers

Most cite financial problem, exploration, lack of job opportunities and low wages for reasons to work abroad

A total of 9,876 Bhutanese has been deployed abroad as of 2022 as overseas workers since the launch of the program in 2013 and placements beginning from 2014. Youth have been engaged in diverse sectors such as retail, education, tourism and hospitality, agriculture, wellness, information technology (IT), finance and accounts, geo-fitness, and skills development.

Spread around 12 countries, the youth make a monthly income of Nu 30,000 to 40,000. As of 2022, Kuwait had the highest number of Bhutanese youth working under the program and Singapore the least. 

Mostly belonging to the age group of 25-29, Bhutanese youth have been deployed across twelve different countries through the Ministry of Industry, Commerce and Employment (MoICE) and different Registered Bhutanese Overseas Employment Agents (RBOEAs).

The countries include Kuwait, Qatar, United Arab Emirates (UAE), India, Thailand, Malaysia, Japan, Bahrain, Israel, Australia, Oman, Singapore, amongst others. 

Currently, there are only four valid RBOEAs, Employ Bhutan Overseas Employment Agent, RUMI Overseas Employment Agent, Jinzai Overseas and Wangchuk Overseas Employment Agent. 

In 2022, the highest Bhutanese overseas employed resided in Kuwait with 4,130 youths comprising of 2,403 females and 1,727 males, followed by India with 2,268 youth comprising of 1,784 female and 484 males. Next in line are the UAE and Qatar with 1,134 and 844 youths working there respectively. About 403 females and 405 males also work in Japan. 

The country with the least number of Bhutanese employed is Singapore with only 8 Bhutanese there, Oman with 17 and Australia with 22, followed by Israel and Malaysia with 32 and 86 each. There are 245 Bhutanese working in Thailand and 199 in Bahrain.

Amongst the 9,876 deployed Bhutanese for the overseas employment, MoICE has deployed about 4,971 Bhutanese overseas, followed by Rumi overseas employment agent with 1,494 and Wangchuk overseas employment agent with 892 and Employ Bhutan Overseas with 590 as of 2022, amongst others. 

Meanwhile, a latest survey called oversea employment program monitoring survey report 2023 conducted by the MoICE reveals that the most common reason for choosing overseas employment was financial problems, with 43% of the respondents saying so.

Other reasons included interest to experience working overseas (38%), lack of job opportunities in the country (37%) and of low wages in the country (34%), amongst others.

In terms of the current overseas employment status, the most common occupation held by Bhutanese overseas workers was assales workers. The average monthly income was found to be between Nu 30,000 to Nu 40,000.

The majority of the oversea workers were placed by MoICE for their current placement, followed by Rumi overseas employment agent and Wangchuk overseas employment agency.

The survey also revealed the need of the royal government to improve its interventions in overseas employment, including providing necessary skills, attractive job opportunities, and preferred countries to work in.

Regarding the pre-departure briefing process for oversea employments, the survey revealed that the majority of the oversea employment received the briefing from the ministry, and most claimed to be fully aware of the terms and conditions laid out in the undertaking form signed.

The survey also identified some recommendations to improve the pre-departure briefing process, including the provision of awareness packages, awareness of rules and regulations, information on the destination country, mentorship, and self-care, amongst others.

Kunzang Lhamu, Director General (DG), Department of Employment and Entrepreneurship (DoEE) said that the ministry will utilize the findings presented in the report to work towards refining the overseas employment program and ensuring a more favorable and supportive environment for the Bhutanese overseas workers.

The DG said that with such survey reports, the ministry hopes to guide towards further progress and enhancement of the overseas employment program, ultimately improving the lives of the Bhutanese overseas workers. 

Meanwhile, as per the Cabinet directives dated August 21, 2013, the Ministry was instructed to explore overseas employment. The Overseas Employment Program (OEP) was initiated along with other employment facilitation programs in 2013 and approved by the Cabinet dated September 26, 2013.

The overseas placement was kept on hold since March 5, 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. However, it resumed from November 2021. OEP was identified as a program that would be able to meaningfully engage youth in terms of developing their skills while providing them opportunity to earn and explore.

The above findings were published and released recently by the DoEE as its annual report 2021-2022.

Sherab Dorji from Thimphu