A Bangladeshi migrating to the Middle East pays an amount equivalent to USD 3,000 on average, which was two to four times higher than the cost for the migrants in neighbouring countries including India, Pakistan, Nepal, and Sri Lanka, reports Press Xpress
Bangladesh is one of only a few countries across the world reeling from the skyrocketing migration costs that’s among the highest. Although the government has repeatedly promised to ease the migration process and reduce the costs involved, the influence of intermediaries has not ended – thereby resulting in rising costs.
A study by the Refugee and Migratory Movements Research Unit (RMMRU) published on January 12 reveals that the cost of migration for Bangladeshi workers declined to some extent over the course of the last several years, but it is still the highest in Southeast Asia.
In fact, migration from Bangladesh is facilitated by either the government or by private recruitment agencies here; the government of Bangladesh facilitates the migration process at a lower cost than what is charged by private recruitment agencies. Intermediaries and sub-agents help connect the larger private recruitment agencies to migrants at local levels. Like the government, private recruitment agencies also provide skills training prior to the workers’ migration.
But an abnormally high migration cost puts potential migrants in peril from the beginning of the migration process as they often manage the money by selling land or homesteads or borrow money from private sources even at high interest rates. Intermediaries in the process are mainly deemed responsible for the exorbitantly high cost, which pushes migrant workers into a sort of a bonded labour as the workers find it difficult to make up for the cost.
The Malaysian government recently approved the entry of foreign workers in the country after an almost 16-month hiatus due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Malaysia has also advised the employers not to make any payment through intermediaries or third parties for the purpose of speeding up the application process. The entry of foreign workers for all employment sectors was approved by the Malaysian cabinet meeting on 10 December last year.
This entry will open to all sectors allowed for the employment of foreign workers in the fields of agriculture, manufacturing, services, mining and quarrying, construction and domestic services. Previously, approval was given for the entry of 32,000 foreign workers for the plantation sector with special exemptions.
Bangladeshis constitute the fifth largest migrant community in the world. Migration has consistently remained a key source of foreign exchange and job creation. It is certainly key to the steady economic growth of the country. But the cost of migration from Bangladesh is unusually high and it’s actually considered one of the highest in the world.
It is a long-standing issue. A Bangladeshi migrating to the Middle East pays an amount equivalent to USD 3,000 on average, which was two to four times higher than the cost for the migrants in neighbouring countries including India, Pakistan, Nepal, and Sri Lanka.
The female migration cost effectively decreased by 20 per cent in 2017 than that of 2014. It fell by 18 per cent in 2020 as compared to 2017. Compared to 2014, the male migration cost reduced by 5.0 per cent in 2017 than that of 2014 and by 7.0 per cent in 2020 from 2017 level.
According to the RMMRU study, the cost of recruitment varies on the basis of gender, countries of destination as well as types of visa.
The RMMRU study was conducted based on a long-running panel survey of over 6,000 households, spanning 20 districts of Bangladesh. It compared economic sustainability of internal migrants, international migrants and non-migrant households.
The research found major changes in the migration status that came down between the second and third waves of coronavirus. The increased number of returnee migrants is directly linked to Covid-19.
Compared to 2017, remittances fell by 8 per cent per household in nominal terms in 2020. When 5 per cent inflation per year is added, the reduction in remittance in real terms is 23 per cent. The amount of remittances sent by female migrants increased by 16 per cent in nominal terms, and in real terms, it reduced by 1.6 per cent.
During the Wave 2 survey, the expenditure growth was very strong across all households. The share of food expenditure was decreasing while the share of non-food expenditure was increasing rapidly. During the Wave 3 survey, the households reduced non-food expenditure and increased food expenditure. Despite shocks, migration appears to enhance the economic sustainability of the households.
Poverty of all three groups – internal, international and non-migrants – has declined. In 2014, 31 per cent of internal migrants, 10 per cent of international migrants and 20 per cent of non-migrant households were below the poverty line.
Meanwhile, the Expatriate Welfare and Overseas Employment Minister expressed his hope that the migration cost to Malaysia would be less than Tk 1 lakh as the workers will not have to pay for the air tickets this time. The minister also assured of reducing the previous amount of migration cost significantly which was fixed at Tk 1.60 lakh as the agencies of both the countries would work in this process.
Malaysia later suspended hiring Bangladeshi workers in September 2018 over allegations of malpractice in the recruitment process and high recruitment costs.
To meet the growing demand for workers following the Covid-19 pandemic, the Southeast Asian country has started hiring workers from potential countries, and as part of the move, the Malaysian cabinet on 10 December 2021 decided to resume the recruitment of Bangladeshi workers.
The Ministry of Expatriates’ Welfare and Overseas Employment is amending the Overseas Employment and Migrants Act, 2013 to root out criminal activities in the process.
However, Malaysia is not the only destination for Bangladeshi migrants. Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) house the largest Bangladeshi diasporas in the region, comprising 2.5 million and 1.2 million migrants. Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE account for over 10% of all migrants globally, while Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates host respectively the third and fifth largest migrant populations in the world.
Meanwhile the Bangladesh government has decided to construct 40 more training facilities, emphasising on developing technological skills. If we can make our workers skilled and reduce the harassment caused by the middle-men, Bangladesh will be able to significantly increase its earnings from remittance.
But it is time the government took up effective steps to protect the interests of migrants by doing away with intermediaries and making the migration process easy and direct. The authorities concerned must bring the migration process under an effective legal framework and develop an appropriate mechanism to arrest the illogically high migration cost and other forms of fraud. Migrant worker rights in destination countries must also to be ensured at the same time.