Bangladesh and Saudi Arabia have agreed to stop “visa trading” that heavily increases recruitment cost and contributes to debt bondage and forced labour abroad.
The agreement came at a meeting between Imran Ahmed, Bangladesh's state minister for expatriates' welfare and overseas employment, and Saudi deputy labour minister Dr Abdullah bin Naser bin Mohammed Abu Thunain in Riyadh.
“In a meeting, the two ministers agreed to stop visa trading,” said a statement issued by the Bangladesh Embassy in Riyadh yesterday. Imran Ahmed left for Saudi Arabia on March 1 and is scheduled to return on March 10.
The visit of the minister comes at a time when labour recruitment from Bangladesh to the Kingdom is significantly decreasing. A total of 5,51,308 Bangladeshis went to the Kingdom in 2017, which came down to 2,57,317 last year.
Besides, many Bangladeshis, who were working there under “free visas”, were also deported in recent months. Some returnees told The Daily Star they had valid visas but were still detained and deported.
Bangladesh embassy officials in Riyadh said it is illegal for foreign workers who are contracted for one company, to work for another. In previous years, law enforcers were not strict enough but in recent times, they are strictly enforcing the law as the authorities are now prioritising employing Saudi workers amid economic stress.
Hundreds of Bangladeshi female workers are also returning home every month following alleged abuse by Saudi employers and brokers.
According to the Bangladesh Embassy statement, the two ministers discussed various aspects of labour affairs, including protecting workers' rights and addressing the problems of female domestic workers in Saudi Arabia.
Asked about the issues, Syed Saiful Haque, chairman of migrant rights nonprofit WARBE Development Foundation, said it's a laudable initiative by the state minister for expatriates' welfare to have raised the issue of visa trading and protection of migrants' rights.
The workers going abroad for jobs should not pay any fees, but the reality is that layers of brokers -- both at home and abroad -- and even employers charge fees for work visas. This encourages some unscrupulous people to set up “name-only” companies and have visas approved just for making money, he said.
When the workers arrive in the destination country, they find themselves jobless or are allowed to find jobs elsewhere, which is illegal, Syed Saiful Haque said.
“This has been a perennial problem for many years, but nothing could stop it,” he said, adding that Saudi Arabia is a country where law is generally strictly enforced.
Saudi Arabia should issue a decree, banning any sort of monetary exchange for recruitment of foreign workers. If that is done, visa trading can be stopped and other labour-recruiting countries can also follow it, he added.
The migration cost for those going to Saudi Arabia is Tk two to three lakh, though ideally a migrant should not pay any fees, according to recruiting agencies and migrant rights activists.
High cost of migration leaves the migrants in debt bondage and forced labour, one of the chronic problems in labour migration sector, said Syed Saiful Haque.