Logo of Bureau of Manpower, Employment and Training (BMET)
Logo of Bureau of Manpower, Employment and Training (BMET)

The government issues licences to recruiting agencies to send workers overseas by legal means. The workers, ostensibly, go overseas through these agencies. Yet most of them don’t even know the names of the agencies. They only know the local middleman through whom all the transactions are carried out. This increases both migration costs and all sorts of harassment.

The non-governmental research organisation, RMMRU (Refugee and Migratory Movements Research Unit), has long been recommending that these middlemen be brought under legal process in order to cut down on costs as well as curb harassment.

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In 2018, the parliamentary standing committee of the expatriate affairs and overseas employment ministry also made such a proposal. However, this remained unimplemented so long.

On 8 October, it was decided at a meeting of the parliamentary committee to form a committee in this regard. The process now has finally begun to bring the middlemen under registration.

The committee is being formed with director general of the Bureau of Manpower, Employment and Training (BMET), Md Shamsul Alam, as the head. It will also have two representatives from BAIRA (Bangladesh Association of International Recruiting Agencies), the association of private sector agencies which send people overseas on employment. The committee will draw up a draft for the process of registering the sub-agents or middlemen who work on behalf of the agencies. The committee is scheduled to hold its first meeting this week.

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Speaking to migrant workers and recruiting agencies, it was learnt that the government has set Tk 165,000 as the maximum cost of sending a worker to Saudi Arabia. Yet when going though private sector channels, a male worker pays between Tk 300,000 to Tk 500,000. The fee fixed by the government is not followed in the case of any country. On average, the rate fixed by the government to go abroad on employment is Tk 150,000. But in actuality, a worker spends over Tk 350,000. Male workers all pay more than Tk 400,000 on average to go abroad.

Even though they are regularly cheated, the migrants are more comfortable dealing with the known faces of the middlemen

The BMET DG Md Shamsul Alam told Prothom Alo, the middlemen basically operate through the recruiting agencies. They can provide official appointments. The objective of the committee is to draw up a draft outline of how to bring the middlemen under control.

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According to RMMRU, 19 per cent of the people can’t even go overseas despite paying the money. In 2018, the workers lost a total of Tk 27.06 billion (Tk 2,706 crore), falling prey to middlemen. And 32 per cent of the workers went abroad to find no job or face other forms of harassment.

Even though they are regularly cheated, the migrants are more comfortable dealing with the known faces of the middlemen. These middlemen deal with everything for the migrants, from arranging the passports to seeing them off at the airport. This pushes up the costs at every step. The recruiting agencies have no network or employees at a field level. The middlemen recruit workers for them.

BAIRA said that in 1985, there was a system for middlemen to avail registration from the recruiting agencies. The agencies would then have to bear all the liabilities of the middlemen. They would have to face legal cases. Finally that system was cancelled. The agencies will not be able to control the middlemen. The government had issued directives at one point of time for recruiting agencies to set up offices at the district level, but that never materialised.

The RMMRU founder chair Tasneem Siddiqui told Prothom Alo, it would be possible to save at least Tk 30 billion (Tk 3000 crore) a year by registering the middlemen. It would also cut down on people being cheated
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Simply registering middlemen will not decrease migration costs or harassment. However, the middlemen can be registered by the local administration. The middlemen will then accountable to the local administration.

Speaking to Prothom Alo, the BAIRA secretary general Shameem Ahmed Chowdhury said, many migrant workers start arranging visas once they go abroad and sell these to their local acquaintances back home. So just registering the middlemen is not enough. The entire migration process must be digitalized in order to ensure transparency.

RMMRU, however, said that it will not be possible to eliminate the middlemen under the existing system in the migration sector. They must be brought under a legal framework and made accountable. They can be registered and a fixed fee can be determined.

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The district level government manpower office or recruiting agency or BAIRA can provide the registration. It would be most effective if the registration came from BAIRA. BAIRA can open offices in 64 districts as it will not be possible for individual agencies to do so. And conflict of interests may arise if the middlemen are registered by the manpower office as the regulatory body. The middlemen were not included in the 2013 migration act even though they provide 17 types of services.

The RMMRU founder chair Tasneem Siddiqui told Prothom Alo, it would be possible to save at least Tk 30 billion (Tk 3000 crore) a year by registering the middlemen. It would also cut down on people being cheated. In order to establish good governance in the migration sector, it is essential to start this registration work through BAIRA. RMMRU has being voicing this demand since 2001.

This report appeared in the print and online edition of Prothom Alo and has been rewritten for the English version by Ayesha Kabir