KP Sharma

In recent years, there has been a massive increase in the employment of foreign workers. This trend has instilled worries among locally trained youths from different training institutes and are urging the government to take measures to protect their interests.

The TVET report of 2023 a surge in the arrival of foreign workers, with over 137,324 applications approved by the Department of Labour (DoL).

Many TVET graduates in the country argue that current employment practices are unfair to local workers.

They argue that despite the government’s substantial investments in training the local workforce, the availability of job opportunities remains constrained. A tight job market, exacerbated by the hiring of foreign workers, further worsens this situation.

“What is the use of training youth and establishing training institutes when they do not have any opportunity in the country?” they asked.

They claim that the absence of timely monitoring and review by relevant agencies is the biggest problem. This oversight, they argued, leads to their status as skilled workers being overlooked.

The absence of timely monitoring, they say leads to people exploiting the situation and disregarding regulations to their advantage.

They acknowledged the efforts of the labour department but are dissatisfied with the progress over time, which they deem “inadequate”.


Current challenges

A group of individuals, trained in various skills such as plumbing and house wiring, have voiced concerns that despite receiving training for several years, they find themselves relegated to unskilled works due to limited job opportunities.

They see this situation as a loss for the country.

Nima Dorji, a plumber based in Thimphu, said that Bhutanese contractors and construction owners often lack trust in local workers.

They prefer to award contracts directly to intermediaries who prioritise hiring foreigners, even when Bhutanese workers have the requisite skills.

Ugyen Tenzin, another skilled worker, said that Bhutanese contractors should provide opportunities for the local workforce. Only tasks beyond the capabilities of Bhutanese workers should be outsourced to foreigners, he added.

The group stated that when local workers are hired for projects within the country, it’s crucial for influential and senior bureaucrats to set an example.

Influential figures, they argued, often award their construction projects directly to foreign workers, creating a precedent that eliminates employment opportunities for locals.


Quality and price

Skilled Bhutanese workers claim that contractors often opt for foreign workers over Bhutanese due to the perception that local labour is costly.

This perception may not always hold true when considering the overall project cost, especially if the work is prolonged, one argued. “While foreign workers may seem cheaper initially, their prolonged duration to complete works can ultimately escalate costs, rendering them less cost-effective than initially assumed.”

Some workers also raise concerns about the quality of work performed by foreign workers, as they lack adequate training or certification. This raises doubts about their accountability, particularly when they depart the country after project completion.



To address these challenges, Bhutanese trained workers have formed groups on social media to stay connected and collaborate on projects.

Some technical training institutes have started placing trainees directly into on-the-job training programs with them, based on feedback from the trainees.

Instructors from the technical institutes conduct field visits to evaluate their trainees three times over five months.


Recruitment regulations and flaws

The labour department’s regulations apply to both government-awarded projects and private constructions. The recruitment proportion of foreign and Bhutanese workers depends on the total cost of the project.

The Department has imposed a restriction on the number of foreign workers in rural and urban areas, stipulating that 50 percent of the labour force must be comprised of foreign workers and the remaining 50 percent Bhutanese workers.

As per the 2022 regulations on foreign worker management, foreigners can only be employed for occupations where Bhutanese workers are either unavailable or unwilling to work.

This implies that positions such as plumbing, carpentry and electricians, among others, cannot be filled by foreigners, as Bhutanese workers are trained for these roles.

Reports indicate that contractors and construction owners frequently ignore these regulations due to minimal government monitoring.