Employment: Like many others, Zangmo (name changed) also wanted to try her luck with employment abroad after the new government announced its ambitious plan to send 30,000 jobseekers abroad in 2013.

Zangmo came across an overseas employment agent, who introduced her to a Malaysian company that promised her a managerial level job and good salary.

“Since I was in need of a job to help my family, without thinking much I went to work in Malaysia,” Zangmo said. “But only to find myself being trapped in a house of a fraud for a month.”

Zangmo fell prey to a woman, Subathrah Nadarajah, who is of Sri Lankan origin and resides in Malaysia. Nadarajah introduced herself as the managing director for SACS management services, a fake online company which she runs with her husband of Indian origin, from a small apartment.

“Initially they were very welcoming to me but as days passed, forget about the job, they didn’t allow me to step out of the house,” Zangmo said. “They took around Nu 400,000 and sent me to Bangkok, from where I managed to return home with the help of my family,” she added.

“During my stay, I saw the couple conducting fake interviews with Bhutanese jobseekers and promising jobs in several other countries to Bhutanese overseas employment agents,” she said. “It was not just me.”

Both jobseekers and Bhutanese overseas employment agents have fallen victim to such fraudsters.

“I saw how the couple that cheated me managed to lure a Bhutanese overseas agent to send Nu 1.5 million in exchange for jobs for six people in Russia,” she said. “I knew it was a fake promise but I was helpless,” she added.

“What surprised me the most was that documents sent by such fraudulent people gets approved by our government,” Zangmo said.

Zangmo was one of many jobseekers, who failed to find a job overseas after spending almost all the lifelong savings of their parents. Some jobseekers have even started fighting court cases hoping to get back their money.

Only a few have managed to get jobs abroad, and even among them, many did not receive the salaries they were promised.

A government pledge

When the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) government came to power in 2013, it promised 100 percent employment.

Faced with an increasing number of job seekers in the country and limited employment opportunities, overseas employment was seen as an option. In October, the government made an ambitious announcement to send 30,000 jobseekers to work abroad. Bhutan’s youth unemployment rate currently stands at 9.2 percent, according to the labour ministry.

The labour ministry created the Regulations on Bhutanese Overseas Employment Agents 2013 to protect Bhutanese jobseekers from being exploited. One of the conditions of the regulation was to send jobseekers only to countries where workers’ rights are well protected.

The labour ministry’s media focal person, Sonam Choden said nine overseas employment agents have been licensed so far. Of which two agents, Tenzu Overseas Employment and Global Overseas Employment, have been suspended for violating the regulations.

The ministry in March, last year also suspended Lama Youth Employment Pvt Ltd for breaching several provisions of the regulation.

She said the licenses of two other agents, Druk Metserter, and Task Overseas have expired but can be renewed. The ministry has also received a few more applications to become overseas employment agents, said Sonam.

Other than licensed agents, Sonam said the ministry has also come across overseas job postings on social media forums like Facebook and WeChat. “We try to find the person using the contact number provided against the job postings and issue notifications,” she said.

The ministry’s overseas employment division has received several cases filed against overseas employment agents by jobseekers.

100 percent employment? 

In a recent interview with Kuensel, the labour minister was quoted as saying that it is difficult to find jobs overseas. Going by the government’s pledge, more than 6,000 jobseekers were to be placed overseas every year, and a total of 30,000 in five years.

However, into its third year, only 1,432 jobseekers have found jobs abroad since the overseas employment programme began, according to the latest report compiled by the labour ministry.

The report stated that there were 23,957 registered jobseekers, of which 11,812 were still unemployed. Around 2,142 have found jobs with the government, 2,057 were employed in corporations, 6,408 have found jobs with private companies, and 106 found work with non-government organizations.

Around 1,432 were placed abroad, with the countries of India and Thailand being the highest recruiters as of now. Other overseas countries include Malaysia, the United Arab Emirates, Doha, Qatar, Israel and Kuwait.

Officials said the effort to place jobseekers in Thailand, mostly as teachers, has been a success. This is because it was arranged between the governments of Bhutan and Thailand, and not by overseas employment agents.

Dawa Gyelmo,  Wangdue