Foreign employees on the rise in Bangladesh
The number of foreign nationals employed in the country is on the rise in the absence of adequate manpower with the technical know-how among a labour force of nearly 4.4 million and expanding economic activities.
The majority of the foreign nationals are employed in the garment sector in top posts like production managers, merchandisers, senior sewing operators, cutting masters, designers and washing experts.
The foreign nationals mainly come from India and Sri Lanka, followed by Pakistan, China, South Korea, Taiwan and the Philippines.
Last year, the foreign employees, their number being more than two lakh, took home nearly $5 billion in salaries and allowances, according to data from the Bangladesh Bank.
From 2009 to September this year, 7,030 new work permits were issued, according to data from the Board of Investment, one of the government bodies that issue employment visas for foreign nationals.
Of the new work permits issued by the BoI over the last seven years, 1,574 came in the first nine months of 2015 alone. And during that period, it also renewed work permits for 2,167 foreign nationals.
In 2014, the BoI issued 3,511 extensions, and in 2013 the number was 2,907.
The other government bodies that are authorised to issue work permits are the Bangladesh Export Processing Zones Authority and the Department of Passport and Immigration.
Between January 1 and November 29, the Department of Immigration and Passport gave extension to employment visas for 7,822 foreign nationals. In 2014, it authorised extensions for 8,957 foreign workers.
The number is increasing everyday as many foreigners are coming here for different job purposes, said Sabina Yeasmin, a director of the BoI.
Furthermore, there are many foreign nationals who are residing in Bangladesh without valid documents, said a senior official of the Department of Passport and Immigration.
The department of passport and immigration is not responsible for identifying the undocumented migrant workers; it only gives permission to applicants for new visas or extensions, he added.
Yeasmin said the applications for renewals are more than those for fresh permits.
Mahmud Hasan Khan Babu, vice-president of Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association, said the platform asked its about 5,000 members in October to report on the number of foreign employees they have employed.
So far, only 233 factories have replied with their foreign employee counts.
“We are preparing the database as the number of foreign workers, including the undocumented ones, is increasing day by day.”
He said the garment sector needs to employ foreign workers as there is a shortage of skilled manpower for top posts like merchandising, production and designs.
Regarding the foreign workers, Syed Sultan Uddin Ahmed, assistant executive director of the Bangladesh Institute of Labour Studies, said it is a new kind of challenge for the country as many do not have the valid documents to stay. Subsequently, he called for a thorough survey on the matter.
Gagan Rajbhandari, deputy country director of the International Labour Organisation in Dhaka, said there is no genuine research or data on the presence of undocumented workers. Without any evidence, it would not be possible to say if there are undocumented workers and whether or not they have equal opportunities, he added.
Syed Ahmed, additional secretary to the ministry of labour and employment, said the government does not have any specific data on undocumented foreign workers as this is a new issue in Bangladesh.
“We are not aware of this issue,” he said, adding that the government will seek to ratify the related ILO conventions to protect the rights of foreign employees.
He said a survey will soon be conducted to find out the total number of foreign workers in the country, including the undocumented ones.