Cash incentives on remittance offered in the next budget will help boost foreign currency inflow, but the decline in allocation for the expatriate welfare ministry means low priority for the migrant workers’ rights, analysts said.
The budget also doesn’t address the core problems facing the sector, they added.
The government proposed allocating Tk 3,060 crore to provide two percent incentives to ease the burden of high cost of sending remittances -- the first ever move to encourage remittance via legal means.
However, the allocation for the Ministry of Expatriates’ Welfare and Overseas Employment has come down from Tk 596 crore in the outgoing fiscal year to Tk 591 for the next one.
“Providing incentives to the migrants has been our demand for a long time. This incentive will help boost remittance as well as the migrants’ credit worthiness and banking literacy,” said Prof Tasneem Siddiqui, chair of Refugee and Migratory Movements Research Unit of Dhaka University.
In 2018, nearly one crore migrants sent home $15.5 billion via legal channel. The government says the amount could have been much higher given if the money was sent only through legal means.
However, experts say the assumption is only partly true. There are other reasons why remittance growth is low. For example, the remittance in 2015 was $ 15.27 billion. Over 555,880 migrants went abroad for jobs that year. In next two years, the remittance fell to $13.6 billion and $13.5 billion respectively though the number of migrants who went abroad was 7.58 lakh in 2016 and 10.07 lakh in 2017.
Migration experts say exploitation in the labour migration sector, including high recruitment cost, unemployment and underpayment rose in recent years. Many returned home emptyhanded within a few months after going abroad, said Prof Tasneem.
Therefore, lowering recruitment costs and ensuring that each migrant abroad has proper job and regular salary are the most important things that need to be done to increase remittance, she said.
The government must take strong measures against unscrupulous recruiting agents, visa traders and ensure efficient handling of labour disputes in the destination countries, said the professor.
It’s astonishing that the allocation for the expatriates’ ministry has fallen at a time when the number of migrants is rising, she said.
“It’s not that increasing the budget would automatically mean better services. What’s required is pro-migrant policies as well as employing the right people in the right place.”
Economics Professor Selim Raihan of DU said the proposed cash incentive could be a short-term measure, but not a sustainable one.
The authorities need to work on making the banking channels hassle-free and taking the services to the doorsteps of the migrants as well as their families, he said.
Remitting money via illegal means costs little and is convenient because the hundi traders reach out to the remitters, charge very little and transfer the amount really fast.
Prof Selim said a section of people overseas who are involved in illegal visa trading and gold and drugs smuggling have a demand for foreign currencies. “Unless money laundering and illegal businesses are stopped, cash incentives for remittance will not be sustainable.”
The government needs to take long-term measures, including training the jobseekers in skills needed in the global market, he added.
Jalal Uddin Sikder, migration researcher at the University of Liberal Arts, said if the government was really sincere in promoting migrant welfare, it should have taken pro-migrant investment policies.
Also, the government needs to think of digital means of money transfer and establish partnerships with the telecom authorities of the labour destination countries.
“In that case, migrants may remit using their mobile phones,” said Jalal Uddin Sikder, a migration researcher.
Anisur Rahman Khan, director (migration) at Awaj Foundation, said a vast majority of the migrants were not happy with the services provided by the Bangladesh embassies abroad.
This frustration sometimes keeps the migrants from remitting through legal channels, he said.
“The clear conclusion is that our state has to better serve the migrants and prove that it cares for them. If that’s done, migrants will be fine. The government doesn’t need to provide any incentive,” Anisur told The Daily Star.