The United Arab Emirates (UAE) used to be the second largest source of overseas remittance for Bangladesh. In 2020-21, this country dropped to third position, with the US coming up second in its stead. It has not managed to climb back to its original position again.
On the flip side, certain cities of UAE have become the major hubs of investment for Bangladeshis. Many persons are transferring their wealth from the country to the UAE by illegal means and are investing there. That is why remittance from the UAE through legal channels has dropped, exacerbating the dollar crisis in Bangladesh.
A two-week visit around Dubai, Sharjah, Abu Dhabi and Ajman in the UAE revealed that Bangladeshis have invested in villas, flats, small hotels, starred hotels and all sorts of property and businesses in these places. Many have made these investments in their own names and many clandestinely. They use their citizenship of Albania, Cyprus and other country, rather than their Bangladeshi citizenship, for this purpose. Many Bangladeshis have even bought houses and starred hotels in costly upscale areas of Palm Jumeirah, Silicon Oasis, Emirates Hill, Dubai Marina and Business Bay. The world's wealthiest people own property in these areas.
It requires Bangladesh Bank's permission for Bangladeshis to invest overseas. But till now Bangladesh Bank has not given anyone permission to invest in the UAE. That means the Bangladeshis are resorting to illegal means to transfer their funds to invest in UAE. UAE does not question the legitimacy or sources of funds.
Bangladesh's ambassador to the UAE, Mohammad Abu Zafar, speaking to Prothom Alo, said, "A lot is said about Bangladeshis' investment here, but not all of this is true. Bangladesh citizens live in many countries around the world. Many have taken up passports and citizenship of other countries. Many have bought homes to live in Dubai. That cannot be called wrong."
Bangladeshis' presence is the highest in Deira, Dubai. Many of the apartment and hotel owners there are Bangladeshi and these establishments have been set up with Bangladeshis in mind. And that is why Bangladeshis have been employed there too to run the set-ups. Also, many of the Bangladeshi-run computer services, mobile recharge and mobile sales companies there are being used for 'hundi', the illegal money transfer system. Dirham is paid to these shops and families back home receive the cash in taka.
For every dirham sent through these informal channels, the recipient receives Tk 31.75. And if sent through the two biggest exchange houses of that country -- Al Ansari and Lulu Exchange House -- the families of the migrants received Tk 29.12 per dirham.
To receive money sent through formal channels, the recipient has to go to the bank. But money sent through informal channels is transferred to the recipient's mobile banking account or delivered in cash in person. And those in Bangladesh wanting to send money to Dubai through illegal channels, do so through the 'hundi' groups in the country. In the UAE, a large number of the hundi-walas are in Rolla (Sharjah), Meena Bazar (Dubai) and the vegetable market in Ajman.
Certain persons involved in the hundi gangs, speaking to Prothom Alo, said, "Those who want to send money to UAE from the country, stay back in the country. Those who buy houses in UAE, pay us here in the country and we pay them the equivalent there."
Legal remittance drops
Till February, 14,983,000 people have gone overseas from the country for employment. The highest number, 5,366,000 went to Saudi Arabia, that is 35 per cent of the migrant workforce. UAE is next, with 16.81 per cent of the migrant workers going there, totalling 2,518,179, of which, 134,383 are women. Even then remittance from there is dropping.
In 2020, a total of 1,082 went to the UAE, in 2021 this was 29,202 and in 2022 this was 101,775. Earlier, from 2006 to 2012, around 1,900,000 went. Even so, remittance from the country is on a decline.
In the 2014-15 fiscal year, USD 2.82 billion (USD 282 crore) came in remittance from UAE. This fell in 2021-22 to USD 2.07 billion (USD 207 crore). Yes previously, after Saudi Arabia, the highest amount of remittance would come from UAE. Now the most remittance, after Saudi Arabia, comes from the US. A large percentage of the Bangladeshi nationals in UAE are from Chattogram and Cumilla and so the remittance to those districts has fallen too.
There are a few branches of Bangladesh's state-owned Janata Bank in UAE, but these branches hardly play a significant role in collecting remittance. The workers do not get any time off to send money back home and so it is easier from them to use the hundi service close at hand. But when it comes to very large sums of money, then formal channels and banks are used.
Managing director of Grand Star Travels, Shawkat Ali Mollah, has been living in Dubai for around 25 years. Speaking to Prothom Alo, he said that the method of sending money must be made easier. It must be ensured that the families get the money immediately. Then remittance through legal channels will increase.
UAE has seven emirates -- Abu Dhabi, Ajman, Dubai, Fujairah, Ras Al Khaimah, As Sharjah and Umm Al Quwain. The country is a stony desert with coastal plains as well as hills. But most of the land is desert. To the north is the Persian Gulf, to the south and west is Saudi Arabia and to the east is Oman and the Gulf of Oman. The total area of the country is 83,600 sq km and has a population of around 10 million. Most of the population comprises migrants. While over 2.5 million (25 lakh) Bangladeshis went to UAE, there are around 1 million (10 lakh) there now.
No one is given permission for permanent residence in UAE. Earlier to do business, a local resident would also have to have ownership. That clause has been removed now. In exchange of investment, a 5 to 10-year Golden Visa is being given. Many Bangladeshis have availed this. This country has posh areas of extravagant luxury, but lower cost flats are available too.
It can cost 300,000 to 400,000 dirham to buy a three to four roomed flat in Dubai, equivalent to around Tk 12 million (Tk 1 crore 20 lakh). That is cheaper than flats in Dhaka's upscale areas, so many Bangladeshis working in Dubai buy flats there. Many Bangladeshis living in other countries also buy flats in Dubai. Also, many businesspersons, politicians, as well as former and present government officials, transfer money unlawfully to Dubai and invest there.
They use other names in the deeds and documents. Some stay there, but most live in Bangladesh. They occasionally come and stay at these villas. Some have employed Bangladeshi nationals to take care of their homes there. They also employ Indians, Pakistanis and other nationals at their homes.
Bangladeshis have built homes in Palm Jumeirah, Emirates Hill, Silicon Oasis, Business Bay and Ajman. The chairman of a certain Bank and the chairman of the executive committee of another bank have built starred hotels there. A bank director has a massive mansion on Emirates Hill. It has been heard that Bangladeshis have also bought hundreds of acres of land in Ajman.
Bangladeshis have amassed all this property in the UAE with bank money and bribe money. As there are large numbers of Bangladeshi workers there, these groups easily buy off their earnings. And so remittance through legal channels to the country has dropped.Salehuddin Ahmed, former governor of Bangladesh Bank
Vast property in owner's real name too
Bangladeshis have bought property there in others' names as using their nationality of other countries too. Then again, there are quite a few Bangladeshis who have bought vast amounts of property in their own names too.
Based on records of the US-based Centre for Advanced Defence Studies (C 4 ADS), the EU Tax Observatory says that 459 Bangladeshis have bought property in Dubai, concealing information. Till 2020, records show they have bought 972 properties there, worth around USD 315 million (USD 31.5 crore). That is equivalent to around Tk 35 billion (Tk 3500 crore) in Bangladesh currency.
In 2019, UAE introduced the Golden Visa to attract wealthy foreigners. One can apply for this visa if one has funds equivalent to USD 2 million (USD 20 lakh). The moment this facility was introduced, there was a flurry of Bangladeshis began buying up huge amounts of property there.
Earlier the country would make the amount of property being purchased in Dubai and also mention the name of the country whose nationals were buying the property. That is no longer made public.
Former governor of Bangladesh Bank, Salehuddin Ahmed, speaking to Prothom Alo about the matter, said, "Bangladeshis have amassed all this property in the UAE with bank money and bribe money. As there are large numbers of Bangladeshi workers there, these groups easily buy off their earnings. And so remittance through legal channels to the country has dropped. They must be identified now and action must be taken. If not, these groups will simply devour the country's development."