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Rise of remittance flow: Challenges for migrant Workers

While we may be satisfied with the amount of remittances, is it not normal for us to frown when we consider the number of skilled workers sending money? More than half of Bangladeshi migrants to various destinations were characterised as “low skilled.”

In 2017, a record number of 10,08,525 workers migrated from Bangladesh to different countries of the world, including 434,000 skilled workers. In 2018, the number of labour migrants dropped to 734 thousand people, while the number of skilled workers also decreased to 318,000. In 2019, the export of the labour force was 7,00,159 people, while the number of skilled workers decreased to 300,000-400,000. Considering low skills, it can be seen that instead of 400,000 low-skilled workers in 2017, 283,000 in 2018, and 1,097,00 in 2019, low-skilled workers went abroad for work. In contrast, the waveform of the semi-skilled labour force altered somewhat between 2017 and 2019. The number of semi-skilled workers dispatched declined from 1.55 million in 2017 to 1.17 million in 2018 and climbed slightly to 1.42 million in 2019.

Bangladesh intended to send 750,000 additional foreign workers in 2020, but due to the Coronavirus epidemic, only 217,669 could be sent. As a result, a significant portion of the workforce lost employment possibilities abroad. In addition, more than 500,000 workers returned to Bangladesh after losing their jobs owing to the coronavirus, which is a significant loss in terms of immigrant workers in Bangladesh. Therefore, Bangladesh must constantly take prompt action and adopt foreign strategies to address such difficulties and safeguard the occupational safety of migrant workers. Because the presence of low-skilled workers and illegal Bangladeshi migrants makes it more challenging to survive the employment market with other foreign peers.

From 1976 to 2019, two million thirty-six thousand nine hundred and eighty-eight (1.84 percent of the total population), skilled 44 million fifty-five thousand eighty-five (34.54 percent), semi-skilled twenty million four thousand seven hundred and eleven (15.54 percent), and unskilled six million two hundred and eleven (48.8 percent) employees migrated overseas. Needless to say, about half of our migrant workforce was unskilled. Financial chances for unskilled workers are inevitably far smaller than those for trained or professional workers. The ratio of skilled migrant workers to unskilled migrant workers influences the number of remittances. Moreover, the greater the number of migrant workers in the countries of the industrialised world, the higher the emigration income of those nations. In industrialised nations such as the United States, Japan, Singapore, the United Kingdom, etc., employee compensation and benefits are significantly higher than in other nations. Compared to other migrant worker-sending countries, such as India, Mexico, China, the Philippines, Egypt, and Pakistan, the number of Bangladeshi migrant workers in these countries is fewer than our expatriate income.

Let’s do a comparative analysis. How many workers do India and Bangladesh send overseas annually, and how much money do these two nations receive annually? In this scenario, it is evident that our workers earn less than those in India. Except for 2013 and 2014, nearly the same number of workers migrated from the two nations. However, the gap between the two nations in terms of annual repatriation income is vast. India’s repatriation income is five times that of Bangladesh’s. Nevertheless, India’s high emigration income has additional causes.

Let’s shed light on another example. The employment quota for Bangladeshis in South Korea has doubled. Korea is an emerging market for Bangladeshi workers. Previously, Bangladesh had a 3,000-worker quota on the Korean market. They were employed in a variety of industries through the Employment Permit System (EPS) for 4.8 years. Bangladeshi workers get a wage of Tk 1.6 lakh and professionals Tk 3.5 lakh for industrial work. Given that the majority of emigrants from this country send remittances through banking channels, it is apparent how we may enhance remittances and employ our migrant workers abroad.

Bangladesh receives significantly fewer remittances than its migrant employees compared to its other Asian peers. Bangladesh’s government is well aware that unskilled workers outnumber skilled workers among its migrant workers. Although several efforts have been made to generate trained labour, we have yet to observe any positive outcomes. More importance should be given to the development of work-oriented technical education than the expansion of general education. In sectors where wages are higher, we have fewer migrant workers. We have no choice but to produce a workforce to meet the demand of the global market as per the required skills. Countries from which most remittances are sent; For example, in most countries, including America, Saudi Arabia, China, Russia, Luxembourg, Singapore, and Japan, our number of workers is less than that of the top remittance-receiving countries. Most of those who are there are engaged in low-paid work. Essentially, the authorities should address the issue, aid the workers in acquiring the necessary skills, and dispatch qualified personnel to ensure higher returns.

In the modern era of industrialisation and technology, skills are regarded as indispensable instruments. In a technology-driven world, the faster technological knowledge and skills can be developed, the easier it will be to keep pace with the times. In the education curriculum of Bangladesh, specifically in technical education, theoretical knowledge has a greater impact on skill development than practical knowledge. But in foreign countries, recruitment is mostly based on skills. There are 71 technical training centres under the jurisdiction of BMET, which is more than any other institution in Bangladesh aiming to promote technical skills in migration-prone regions. In the next years, the government intends to elevate the branches of the training centres to the Upazila level. The question is whether the trainers are being trained to manage these technical institutions. Whether or not they receive regular training centres? It is high time to provide training in modern technological skills, foreign languages and other necessary skills to get the privileges of global employment for our expatriates.

Not only do they lack technical knowledge, but also many migrants have little knowledge about the language, laws, and climate of the destination country before migration. According to several past data, it has been determined that they lack technical abilities. Furthermore, they lack cultural awareness, poor communication skills, the poor physical structure of construction workers, and a lack of proper understanding of hygiene and sanitation, including diet, modern operating machinery, indecisiveness, and a lack of professionalism. Despite these inadequacies or weaknesses, the persistent contribution of unsung heroes in the form of migrant workers has steadily strengthened the nation’s reserves. However, if we consider the progress of technology, the next decade will be a battle between humans and technology. 

Therefore, our labour market may be jeopardised if we fail to impart technical skills to our labour migration candidates at this time. Saudi Arabia is a big labour market for us, who have already started a Saudization programme where it is said that at least 20 percent of a factory will be staffed by Saudi nationals. As a result, twelve forms of employment for expatriates have been announced. So, significant challenges and opportunities are coming in the upcoming days. Furthermore, countries will want to turn around again after the COVID-19 outbreak. New labour markets will be introduced in different countries. Skilled people, including an advanced technical skilled workforce, will be required to fill the vacancies. In the past, several individuals were required to thresh rice in communities, whereas now a single machine can handle the labour of many. The individual who possesses a machine or who has mastered the technique of operating a machine will either prevail in the competition or succumb in the womb of time in the struggle against the present. Therefore, prospective immigrants should be introduced to advanced technology.

Immigration to or recruitment of workers in Bangladesh is quite expensive. According to a report by the World Bank, between 2011 and 2020, Bangladeshi migrants were required to pay around two billion dollars in agency fees in order to travel to Qatar. The workers who travelled to Malaysia were required to pay the recruiting agency $4,700. Due to significant migration costs, actual remittances tend to be quite low. It would be conceivable to cut the amount paid to the agency by 70 to 90 percent if Bangladesh could send its workers abroad by applying a worker-friendly recruitment procedure.

Although the remittance expenditure of South Asian countries is lower than other regions (4.3 percent), it is necessary to reduce it further and bring it down to 3 percent. As we know, the Government of Bangladesh has been providing incentives for several years to encourage remittances through legal channels. As a result, families of remittance senders are receiving financial benefits, and legitimate remittances have increased. However, sending money through Hundi has not been stopped yet. Incentives can be a temporary measure to encourage expatriate Bangladeshis to remit through legitimate channels. However, offering incentives may not minimize remittance expenditures.

Bangladesh authorities do not store annual data on the total number of Bangladeshi workers in any country. There is a record of the number of workers who have left a country, but no information is kept on how many return annually. Apart from this, there is no accurate information about Bangladeshis going abroad illegally (traveling without visas or being smuggled). 

We must take the appropriate steps not just to increase the number of migrant workers but also to produce competent workers with higher incomes and send them to developed nations with high incomes. The enhanced efficiency and higher income destination are, of course, more important than the figures. If we can do that, our expatriate income will increase several times, like in India or other high-remittance recipient countries.

Are we ready to compete in the market of migrant workers by providing adequate training, knowledge, and facilities and ensuring more returns in our economy? 

We may not be able to send 100 percent trained and skilled personnel but we can increase the number as many as possible. Nonetheless, if it is possible to provide proper training or create professional and trained the maximum migrants, we can ensure work arrangements for them in various countries. It is time to rethink and act according to the challenges and opportunities.

Author- MD Talebur Islam

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