Labour migration hits record 13 lakh

Abu Sufian

Bangladesh broke its record for sending workers abroad in 2023, exceeding the previous high by 15%, thanks to the reopening of the Malaysian market and increased quotas in Saudi Arabia. Thirteen lakh workers found employment in 137 countries last year,

an increase from the previous record of 11.35 lakh in 2022, according to data from the Bureau of Manpower, Employment, and Training (BMET). The booming exodus of Bangladeshi workers saw a surprising disconnect:

while overseas employment skyrocketed, remittance growth remained sluggish, inching up only 3% year-on-year in 2023.

Over the last two years, remittances have stagnated at just below $22 billion. Bangladesh received $21.92 billion in 2023, compared to $21.29 billion the previous year.

Bangladesh remittance inflow maintains positive trend, grows 17.06% Malaysia, having reopened its labour market after a four-year pause, emerged as the second-largest employer of Bangladeshi workers internationally,

just behind Saudi Arabia. The Southeast Asian nation recruited a sizeable 3.51 lakh workers across diverse sectors like manufacturing, construction, services, plantations, agriculture, mining, and even household services.

Additionally, the increased quota from 25% to 40% for Bangladeshi workers in Saudi firms in 2021 has played a significant role in enhancing hiring opportunities over the last two years. Saudi Arabia recruited the highest number of 4.98 lakh workers last year,

accounting for around 38% of the total foreign employment in Bangladesh, particularly in roles such as construction workers, cleaners, masons, plumbers and drivers.

Labour recruiters acknowledge that workers who were unable to migrate in 2020 and 2021 due to Covid-19 have done so in subsequent years. However,

a concerning downside persists as numerous workers, predominantly in Oman, Saudi Arabia and Malaysia, face challenges in securing employment due to fake job offers in 2023.

Thus, the success story is overshadowed by alarming allegations from workers regarding fake jobs and the high migration costs compared to the fixed rates set by the government. For instance,

workers bound for Malaysia had to pay between Tk4.5 lakh and Tk5 lakh, significantly higher than the Tk79,000 fixed by the Ministry of Expatriate Welfare and Overseas Employment.

Last year’s record-breaking overseas employment had a bright spot: a surge in numbers in non-traditional destinations like Italy and the UK, alongside the conventional markets in the Middle East.

Leading the pack, Italy emerged as the single-largest non-traditional destination, focusing on agriculture, hospitality, and manufacturing, with a record recruitment of 16,926 workers. In an exceptional trend,

the UK joined the ranks of major employers, recruiting a record 10,437 workers, mainly filling roles as caregivers, domestic staff, and hospitality personnel.

South Korea followed suit, welcoming around 5,000 workers, while Singapore saw a remarkable influx of 53,000 Bangladeshis, solidifying its position as a major destination.

A surge in non-traditional destinations fuelled a 22% increase in skilled worker migration by 11 December 2023. Bangladesh placed 3.08 lakh skilled workers abroad, exceeding the 2.52 lakh mark set in 2022. However, unskilled migration, often referred to as less skilled,

continued to dominate, constituting 50% of total foreign jobs, while skilled migration accounted for around 25%, according to the BMET.

The predominant skilled categories included drivers, caregivers, domestic staff, hospitality personnel, electricians, quality control supervisors, refrigeration and air conditioning technicians, plumbing and pipefitting professionals,

and general electrical workers, according to labour recruiters. The country also sent 50,158 professionals, including doctors, nurses, engineers, and IT specialists, last year, compared to 3,640 the previous year.

Migration experts and bankers attribute the discrepancy between overseas employment and remittances to three primary factors: the prevalence of low-skilled occupations,

the use of illegal money transfer channels (hundi), and the proliferation of fraudulent job offers made by foreign employers and recruiters seeking financial gains from unskilled workers.

Regarding the complaints of not getting promised jobs, Ali Haider Chowdhury, secretary general of the Bangladesh Association of International Recruiting Agencies, said,

“There is no scope for workers to go abroad without confirming their employment.  “However, those going abroad with so-called free visas collected through their families and friends finally end up in trouble.

Many also face difficulties in securing jobs after running away from their employers.”

“We have achieved a milestone because recruiting agencies have been able to send workers based on legitimate demand,” he told TBS.

“If someone does not find work in the destination country, it is not the responsibility of the relevant agency. These demand letters undergo multiple stages of review and verification,

including by Bangladesh’s embassies. Only then does the agency receive permission to send workers.” An official from the BMET employment division said the number of workers who do not find work is very small compared to the total number of migrants.

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