Nepali Times
"Being American doesn’t erase Nepal from our minds."

United States
Sharda Thapa, 55, works as a freelance consultant for US-based businesses and is the founder member of the Association of Nepalis in Midwest America. He has lived in Chicago for 22 years.

Nepali Times: How do you feel about the first conference of overseas Nepalis?
Sharda Thapa:
It's a very welcome development. India has led the way in terms of how immigrant populations can be useful to the home country. Once you recognise talent, the diaspora can reinvest information and wealth into the mother country. The government here is doing a good job by recognising this.

But aren't there legal hassles to realise this?
This is why we are here. We want to make sure that if we are to invest, there have to be clear definitions for who non-resident Nepalis are. We need a contract law to enable investment and repatriation. Essentially, the motto of Nepalis abroad is to help yourself and Nepal.

Are Nepalis in the US enthusiastic about this event?
I represent the coordinating body of all Nepali organisations in North America, the Nepalis Americas Council. Since early May we have been broadcasting the message that the conference will provide an opportunity for people of Nepali origin to help Nepal in ways other than charity and sending money home. There are 40 of us from North America attending.

Are you all American citizens?
Not necessarily. For years I have had a green card but I have a Nepali passport. A large majority of people have taken American citizenship. There is a valid reason to do so. First, it increases participation in the country of adoption. It is far easier to do international business and travel with an American passport. The regulation and disbursement of retirement and the social security fund in the US also become easier. But being American citizens does not erase Nepal from their minds. There are some 60,000 Nepalis in the US. Around one third of them may be citizens. Others are in transition, out of status or they are illegal.

But, if the Nepalis in the US are not fully official, how can the government recognise them as investors?
That is the kind of issues that will surface during this conference and will have to be resolved. The Indians had similar problems when they first began. The government and the NRNs will have to work together and come up with a working document which defines those who are eligible, or not.

"Nepal should take advantage of us."

Gopal Poudyal is a London-based educationist. He heads a college that offers a wide range of subjects from computer science to hotel management with an enrolment of 1,100 students.

Nepali Times: Has this conference of overseas Nepalis begun with the right footing?
Gopal Poudyal:
We are proud that we are now organised, there is now an opportunity for us to give something back to our country. We are awaiting the state's response to initiatives we have taken.

How well are Nepalis in Europe represented at the conference?
From Britain alone there are more than a dozen participants. Nepalis from Germany, France, Belgium and Holland are also taking part.

Even before the conference, the term NRN has already generated controversy. Who are NRNs?
Any Nepali who spends more than six months abroad is an NRN. This way blue collar workers are also NRNs, although at this conference we see only well-established Nepali business people taking part. Everyone was informed about the conference, but since blue collar workers cannot afford to leave their jobs and attend the conference, we don't get to see them here. Those who can afford to take a leave of absence and bear necessary expenses are representing them. We are here to voice their problems, too.

But don't you have conflicting priorities depending on where you are from?
There are certain difficulties with regard to the case of dual citizenship, not just legal hassles. We agree that if the country agrees on dual citizenship, there will be hundreds of thousands of Nepalis living in India and Burma who will apply for dual citizenship. The government, however, can decide to issue dual citizenship for Nepalis residing in certain countries including the US, the UK, Japan, Australia. Nepal should take advantage of us. Nepalis can then choose to come to Nepal during holidays.

"There is a role for us."

DK Dangol runs a manufacturing company in Qatar with 300 workers, and also owns a trading house out of the United States.

Nepali Times: We hear a lot about the plight of Nepalis workers in the Middle East. Dongol: That is one reason why I took the initiative to establish the Nepali Association in Qatar. We are a network of almost all the 70,000 Nepalis based there.

What is the nature of the problem in Qatar?
One of the most pressing problems is sending money home. They resort to 'hundi' run by businessmen who act as middlemen and deliver money to their relatives. While doing that, the middlemen keep the foreign currency and pay the relatives in local currency, taking away foreign exchange from the national coffer. This is why I started a money exchange company in Qatar to send money home and keep things legal.

What else can people like you do to build the national economy?
I am trying to focus on increasing Nepal's export of handicrafts. All we need is good marketing and the ability to take the products to the right market. Businessmen like us can play a significant role in promoting. My personal experience shows that customers in the Middle East are developing a taste for Nepal.

How about your airline venture?
Yes. Our company, Aero Nepal International Airlines, has already qualified in the bidding process. We have a fleet of long-haul aircraft ready to start operations from Kathmandu. We are waiting for the political situation to stabilise. Once that happens, we will get an aircraft-operating certificate from the government and begin. Many other applicants for international routes have already approached us for partnerships but we decided to operate as a separate company.

What are your views on dual citizenship?
I think Nepalis everywhere should have the option of a dual citizenship. In my own case, it is only now when I am active that I spend my time in foreign countries. Once I retire, I would like to come back to my country, for which, retaining Nepali citizenship would be useful.

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)