Foreign experts and skilled workers in various sectors of any country are certainly appreciable. At this time of globalisation, the participation of foreign workers is supplemented with the intention of attracting foreign investment. Each country opens its labour market for the sake of its own economic and commercial development. The development may be pleasant and sustainable only if it yields win-win situation for both the parties.
Foreign workers, including those from neighbouring India and China, are certainly welcome in Bangladesh. But they must abide by the laws of the country. The recent report of transferring out $3.15 billion (Tk 260 billion) by a large number of legal and illegal foreign workers working in Bangladesh published by Transparency International Bangladesh (TIB) is disturbing and certainly a matter of concern.
For it is impossible to happen without the knowledge of government bodies of neighbouring countries. Again the harsh reality is that it would not have occurred without the direct and indirect patronage of a number of government officials.
The home minister had told the parliament on 4 February 2018 that there were 85,486 foreign workers working legally in Bangladesh. It is now estimated that the number is more than double. It is assumable that the data presented in parliament came from the government agencies, including the intelligence. They were aware that workers from 44 countries work in at least 16 categories of 33 organisations. But the government failed to address the problem at the time, even though they were sensing some issues. They were definitely inquiring about something. However, it is the TIB that revealed how far-reaching and devastating the concern was.
What gave us hope is that the government did not ignore or took the report negatively as it previously did. Rather the home minister said the authorities would examine if they received any specific information of irregularity.
Immigration policies and migrant labour issues are no longer seen as economic issues only around the world. It is viewed very seriously from a national security perspective. As per TIB, the estimated number of legal and illegal foreign workers in Bangladesh is about 250,000 which is more than the government estimation. We hope the government will not take too long to look into the matter that was uncovered by a private organisation easily with its limited capacity and access.
Every year at least $3.5 billion or Tk 260 billion are transferred out of the country illegally. It results in a huge amount of tax evasion causing a loss of revenue of at least Tk 120 billion a year. The National Board of Revenue sweats on tax limits and new source of tax during the budget every year. But we can't recall if it ever hinted at loss of revenue.
We expect that a collective and effective body will be established in Bangladesh for the recruitment of foreign workers with a comprehensive and effective strategic policy for monitoring foreign workers. Some people have turned a blind eye to this issue and that is why no reliable information is available on the actual number of foreign workers and the amount of illegally transferred remittances.
The onus is on the Bangladesh Bank, the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) and the finance ministry to prove that the law is same for everyone.