Use of digital tech by Nepali migrants in Malaysia

Members of the UNESCO Chair in ICT4D are leading Work Package 9 of the MIDEQ hub (funded by UKRI GCRF and Royal Holloway, University of London) and are exploring how digital tech can be used to reduce the inequalities associated with migration, especially in four corridors: Nepal-Malaysia, Ethiopia-South Africa, China-Ghana, and Haiti-Brazil. The first of our working papers presenting data on the use of digital tech by Nepali migrants in Malaysia has just been published within the UNESCO Chair in ICT4D’s publication series. Key findings and abstract are as follows.

Key findings

1. Digital technologies play an important part in the lives of Nepali migrants in Malaysia – especially mobile phones for personal communications, entertainment and games, as well as for gaining news updates 2. Very few migrants make any use at all of apps  that have been developed specifically for migrants – 97.3% made no use of such apps    3. Migrant use of digital technologies increases through the migration journey – 94% had not used digital tech before migrating, whereas 66.1% used them very often while in Malaysia


This working paper forms part of the output of Work Package 9 on technology, inequality and migration within the MIDEQ Hub, a multi-disciplinary research project in 12 countries of Latin America, Africa and Asia, including the Nepal-Malaysia migrant corridor.  It presents the results of an online survey of 281 respondents in Malaysia, 98.2% of whom were migrants, with 1.8% being family members of migrants; 96.1% of the respondents had been born in Nepal.  Following a summary of the methodology, which explains why an online survey was used to replace the originally planned interviews and focus groups, the paper provides an overview of the most important results. Smart phones and the Internet are widely used by migrants, mainly for audio calls, video calls, news updates, text messages, and watching videos for entertainment.  Digital devices are liked mainly because they are easy to use and they help users network with others, but in contrast, they are disliked because of the costs of the devices and air-time.  An important finding is that migrants increasingly used digital technologies as their migration journeys progressed; only 3.2% used them very often in deciding to migrate, whereas 66.1% used them while in Malaysia.  Three pertinent conclusions for our future work with migrants and local tech developers on implementing a digital intervention to reduce the inequalities associated with migration are: simply designing another new app will not be particularly valuable; the widespread use of smartphones and access to the internet by migrants suggest that these might be appropriate areas on which to focus; and it might be wise to work with, or build on, technologies and apps already in existence, so as not to reinvent the wheel and add value in any interventions that we develop together.

Our next working paper (available in August) will be on the use of digital tech by migrants and their families in Nepal – preliminary results are interestingly different from those reported in this working paper!

To read this paper in full (v.4 .pdf) please use this link.

Other UNESCO Chair in ICT4D Publications are available here.