Md. Joynal Abdin
The Financial Express on June 12, 2019
Remittances from migrant workers are important for the Bangladesh economy. Workers’ remittances are currently the second highest source of foreign currency for our economy. In 2018, the country earned about US$ 15.54 billion in remittances sent by migrant workers and professionals living and working in foreign countries.
Migration from Bangladesh started around 1976 with a modest number of 6,078 workers going abroad that year. Presently, Bangladeshis are engaged in overseas employment in more than 100 countries. Since 1976 till April of this year, around 12.42 million Bangladeshi workers have gained employment overseas and are sending money to their families and friends back home. From all the years, 2017 saw the highest migration with 1.008 million Bangladeshi workers migrating to various countries of the world.
According to the Bureau of Manpower, Employment and Training, about 49.65 per cent Bangladeshi overseas workers are less skilled, 31.75 per cent are skilled, 15.15 per cent are semi-skilled and only 2.30 per cent of them are professionals. About 11 per cent of the total population of migrant workers living overseas hail from Cumilla, followed by 9.57 per cent from Chattogram, 5.22 per cent from Brahmanbaria, 4.48 per cent from Dhaka and 4.16 per cent from Chandpur. The top destinations for Bangladeshi migrant workers are the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA), United Arab Emirates (UAE), Kuwait, Qatar, Bahrain, Oman, Malaysia, Korea, Singapore and others. As overseas employment has increased over the decades, it has played an important role in the economy of the country in more ways than one.
IMPACT ON THE COUNTRY’S ECONOMY:
Employment of migrant workers has helped poverty alleviation. Remittance enhances the economic conditions of families of migrants who spend this money on products and services in the country, thus contributing to economic growth. Overseas employment also helps in developing the skills and capabilities of migrant workers, encouraging them towards self-employment and entrepreneurship in the foreign country or when they return to Bangladesh. Thanks to inflow and outflow of migrant workers, sectors like hotels, airlines and local transportation are enjoying a boom.
Also, overseas employment enhances transfer of technology through technical knowledge and expertise acquired by the migrant workers working abroad. Migration to foreign countries helps the country achieve population control as families of most migrant workers tend to have one to two children as opposed to people working and residing in the country who have more children.
PROBLEMS FACED BY OVERSEAS EMPLOYMENT SECTOR:
Sometimes the migrant worker-importing country shows excess demand than the actual requirement so that higher number of visas can be sold. Once the workers reach the foreign country, they do not see the work they had been promised and are forced to work in lower-paid jobs.
Red tape in legal system in the labour-importing countries holds up disposal of cases related to low wages, irregular payments and other issues being faced by migrant workers. Lack of awareness about labour rights in the foreign countries act as an impediment to the wellbeing of migrant workers.
Non-payment, underpayment, delayed payment, poor living conditions, refusal to provide air tickets at the time of exit, non-adherence to the terms and conditions of employment by the sponsors are all problems faced frequently by Bangladeshi migrant workers abroad. In case of accidents, it takes years for family members of the deceased migrant worker to get compensation from employers based in the foreign country.
Frequently workers are repatriated after becoming temporarily or permanently handicapped and without proper treatment or compensation. It is very common for recruiting agencies to charge money in excess of the prescribed amount by the government. Many also do not provide money receipts to migrant workers and do not assist and train them before sending them to the foreign countries and carry out other responsibilities that are expected of them.
These problems have been prevalent for decades. Some migration experts believe that addressing these problems can lead to growth in remittances and boost migration of workers to foreign countries. Relevant government agencies should become active as service providers in the sector rather than being just a regulator. Besides promoting Bangladeshi workers abroad, the government departments should ensure skills and language training for workers. Bangladeshi embassies abroad should provide better and efficient services to overseas workers.
Empirical statistics and cross-country data analysis shows that countries like India, China, Mexico and Philippines are earning more remittance now with less number of migrant workers. These countries are exporting skilled labour as well as professionals abroad. As a result they earn much more in annual remittances than Bangladesh. For example, in 2018, Bangladesh earned USD 15.54 billion of remittance, while India earned $79.5 billion, followed by China at $67 billion; Mexico and the Philippines each around $34 billion.
It is high time that Bangladeshi migrant workers were trained according to international demands and were armed with recognised skill-sets. The government can consider a policy where a certain level of skills should be achieved prior to applying for migration. In such ways, remittance earnings can be increased while ensuring safe migration.
Skills development will prove to be effective for local industries as well. Increasing skills can lead to higher productivity and greater industrial growth.