Socioeconomic background is often the biggest predictor of where Nepali people migrate. People with lower socioeconomic backgrounds tend to migrate to India and Gulf nations, such as Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates. Those with higher socioeconomic statuses tend to migrate to the U.S., Canada, Australia, and European countries.
Additionally, certain regions in Nepal experience exceptionally high rates of migration. For example, the Mustang district in Northern Nepal has one of the highest rates of depopulation in the country. It is estimated that ¼ of the culturally Tibetan people from the Mustang District live in New York City.
Above: a map showing where the Mustang district in Nepal is located.
Additionally, women make up 68% of Nepali international labor migrants today. This is a recent pattern, as in the early 1990s, it was unusual for Nepali women to migrate to the United States without their families. In the early 1990s, the majority of Nepali women who migrated to the U.S. came with their husbands who were attending graduate school, in order to take care of children and perform care work for extra pay.
However, this began to change in the late 1990s, as educated women began to migrate from Nepal to the U.S. to take advantage of the wage differentials between the U.S. and Nepal. These women contribute not only to their families but also to their villages and international charitable organizations. They send money regularly to support social organizations and non-family members, which is a new phenomenon, as in the past, labor migrants focused on supporting their direct families and communities. Examples of the social organizations these women support include religious institutions, nonreligious NGOs, and sponsoring orphaned/underprivileged children.
These women mainly immigrate to Boston and New York City, mostly by themselves. The majority are educated professionals or semi-professionals in Nepal, who now work in low-paid service or as care workers. Their jobs range from childcare providers, restaurant workers, house cleaners, and domestics, with the vast majority working for South Asian Indian employers. Here’s how these women describe their experiences:
I learned quickly that the only way to get a good job here was to get a degree from here. That wasn’t so practical for me. So the only work available for me was house cleaning, which doesn’t require any degree or formal training.
I came to America to visit a friend… Then I ended up staying here… My children and husband live in Nepal. My husband tells me that I should pave the way to America for our family.
I have been living here for more than a decade … I am still doing the same work … but I have changed my work many times. Work is just one aspect of my life … I am very much involved with the Nepali community and other nonprofit organizations both in the United States and Nepal. I am Nepali wherever I live, and I help the people and community however I can.
The reason these women tend to be educated professionals is because migrating to the U.S. from Nepal requires certain resources. In order to apply for a visa and purchase a plane ticket, one needs a significant amount of money. Additionally, completing the paperwork both in Nepal and the U.S. requires a certain level of literacy and education.
Though there exist these patterns among Nepali immigrants to the U.S., the Nepali immigrant experience is diverse and varied. As Dr. Shobha Gurung writes in Nepali Migrant Women: Resistance and Survival in America:
“Today, across all socioeconomic and demographic backgrounds and regions, Nepali people are migrating globally in significant numbers and for increasingly varied reasons. Some Nepalis migrate in search of economic opportunities and better livelihoods whereas others migrate to escape from the political violence, threats, and insecurity. Some people migrate for personal reasons (i.e., personal freedom and autonomy) and yet others migrate because of their transnational connections.”