Foreign Worker Influx Raises Concerns

While the approval of a large number of foreign workers supports Bhutanโ€™s economic growth, it also raises concerns about its impact on the local labor market and demographics. Additionally, there are challenges such as the preference for hiring foreign workers over locals, which can lead to a brain drain and exploitation concerns.

Bhutan has experienced a notable surge in the number of foreign workers entering its labor market in recent years, with the construction sector being the primary area of demand. According to the Department of Labor (DoL), 137,324 foreign worker applications were approved in 2023, indicating a significant influx of foreign labor into the nation.

The majority of these workers have been directed into three key economic sectors such as construction, public administration and defense, compulsory social security, and manufacturing. The distribution across sectors reveals that the construction sector leads at 71.6%, followed by public administration and defense at 14.4%, manufacturing at 7.4%, and electricity, gas, steam, and air conditioning supply at 1.3%. Sectors like education, wholesale and retail trade, information, mining and quarrying host smaller percentages of foreign workers.

Within the construction sector, a substantial number of workers were approved as masons, concrete workers, carpenters, process workers, and rod binders or sheet metal workers, highlighting the demand for skilled labor in various industries.

Indian workers comprise the largest group among various nationalities, making up approximately 99.1% of the total foreign workers in Bhutan. This statistic underscores the strong economic ties between Bhutan and India.

Despite the surge in approved foreign workers, itโ€™s important to note that the actual count of foreign workers present in the country may fluctuate due to the dynamic nature of labor migration.

The increase in foreign worker influx marks a significant shift from 2021, with the construction sector now receiving the highest approval rate. Thimphu district, the capital city, hosts the highest concentration of foreign workers, reflecting its economic significance.

While Bhutan primarily sources foreign workers from neighboring India, workers from other countries such as Japan, Bangladesh, and Thailand also contribute to the labor market. This information was reported in the 2023 TVET statistical report.

By Nidup Lhamo, Thimphu