According to BMET numbers, 35,732 workers were cleared to go abroad in January 2021, followed by 49,510 in February and 61,653 in March. However, during the second wave of the pandemic in the country, the number of migrating workers decreased due to the reimposition of lockdown in April, dropping to 34,145 and then even further to 14,200 in May.

Although the number rose to 45,567 in June, it slumped again to just 12,380 in July and 19,604 in August.

Shahidul Alam said that the situation started improving again after the lockdown was gradually lifted in September. Some 42,000 workers were cleared to go abroad in September, rising to 65,233 in October, and culminating in the ‘record’ figure in November.

Addressing the expatriate workers, Shahidul Alam said that before going abroad, one has to preserve the evidence of transaction with anyone. If necessary, papers and photographs of that person should be kept

In both October and November, the figure rose by over 50 per cent compared to the previous month, driving a belief that Bangladesh may have turned the corner when it comes to the overseas labour market.

“Our labour market has recovered because air connections with different countries have become normal,” Shahidul Alam said.

Out of the 485,895 workers who migrated in the first 11 months of 2021, 370,014 (76 per cent) went to Saudi Arabia. Job opportunities have increased for Bangladeshis in Saudi Arabia after the pandemic, the DMET director general added.

Besides, 40,086 workers migrated to Oman, 21,339 to Singapore, 14,274 to UAE, 11,845 to Jordan, 9,728 to Qatar and 936 to Kuwait during the same period.

Shariful Hasan, head of the migration programme at Brac, told the news agency that the employment of about 500,000 workers abroad in a year blighted by the pandemic is certainly a positive development.

Bangladesh entered the global labour market through the overseas employment of just 1,500 people in the years following independence. In 1989, for the first time, 100,000 workers were employed abroad in a year. After that it became 200,000-300,000 and reached 800,000 in 2007

He noted that according to the International Organisation for Migration, Bangladesh is one of the top 10 countries in the world in terms of foreign employment and remittance. Over 10 million (1 crore) Bangladeshi migrant workers are sending remittances.

As a result of their contributions, on 3 May 2021, the foreign exchange reserves reached the milestone of $45 billion for the first time. Expatriates sent over $24 billion in remittances during the 2020-21 fiscal, which also is a record.

“To put it simply, expatriates are sending up to 8-10 times more in remittances than the amount of foreign loans or grants that are now coming in to Bangladesh, or even the amount of foreign direct investment (FDI) in the country,” Shariful added.

Looking ahead

The first outbreak of Covid-19 in March 2020 hit the immigration sector hard. Shariful Hasan said, “We stumbled repeatedly; but we did not lag behind.”

Despite various crises, the government, the expatriate welfare and overseas employment ministry, BMET, the Welfare Board, the Probashi Kalyan Bank (Expatriate Welfare Bank) and other international and non-governmental organisations have tried to work together, this Brac official added.

Arrangements for timely ticketing, registration and vaccination of expatriates, Tk 25,000 for quarantine, installation of RT-PCR devices at airports, government co-operation, and various initiatives have been arranged for the expatriates in response to demands. All these combined effort helped achieve this record, said Brac’s Shariful Hasan.

He said the demand for workers in various sectors, including agriculture, is increasing all over the world following the pandemic.

Long ahead, Shariful said, facilitators have to gain a sense of where the opportunities will arise for future migrants, in terms of destinations as well as sectors. Accordingly, workers will have to be prepared with the requisite skills.

There is already a consensus on greater demand for workers suited to new occupations as part of the 4th Industrial Revolution (4IR).

Initiatives must be taken to create skilled manpower in those occupations. Exploring new labour markets is also important, said Shariful.

Besides, at the district level, various initiatives are being taken to increase the quality of service in the technical training centres in order to enhance the skills of expatriate workers. “That is why everything is being rearranged,” said BMET director general Shahidul.

Moreover, for the safety and security of Bangladeshi workers in Saudi Arabia, a meeting will be held every month with the Saudi Embassy in Bangladesh.

Addressing the expatriate workers, Shahidul Alam said that before going abroad, one has to preserve the evidence of transaction with anyone. If necessary, papers and photographs of that person should be kept. “In case of any kind of harassment, action can be taken according to the evidence.”

Fares to Middle East come down

Meanwhile, despite all these initiatives, Bangladesh Expatriate Rights Council demanded that the air fare be reduced for expatriates flying to work in the Middle-Eastern countries. The demand was voiced at the fag end of 2021.

Amid heightened pressure from several quarters, Biman Bangladesh Airlines in the New Year announced reduced airfares to the Middle Eastern countries, including Saudi Arabia, which will be effective from 16 January.

Labour migration from Bangladesh

Bangladesh entered the global labour market through the overseas employment of just 1,500 people in the years following independence. In 1989, for the first time, 100,000 workers were employed abroad in a year. After that it became 200,000-300,000 and reached 800,000 in 2007. Then, 875,000 workers got employment overseas from Bangladesh in 2008. Later, 500,000-600,000 went abroad on average for several years, according to BMET.

Some 734,000 in 2018 and another 700,000 were employed overseas in 2019.

Shahidul Alam said the country’s manpower has recovered after overcoming the damages of the Covid pandemic in the overseas employment sector. New labour markets are also being introduced for which he called on the media workers to come forward to protect the migrant workers from falling prey to fraud.

During the pandemic, overseas employment came to a halt in 2020. In fact it decreased drastically, as about 500,000 Bangladeshis were forced to return home. The situation, however, improved once in October 2020. And this ability to rebound after a slump has been evident once again since September 2021.

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