In the first eight months of the year, Bangladeshis got 4,17,084 jobs abroad, 2,08,536 fewer than the government’s projected number for this period. The traditional labour markets in the Gulf are on the decline and the reasons are multifaceted. Although we are all aware of the irregularities in recruitment practices, there is also the emerging case of restrictions being placed on our workers. For instance, Saudi Arabia which is the largest destination for Bangladeshi workers reopened its market in 2015 after a break of seven years. But the Kingdom is enforcing a Saudization policy, which means reducing dependence on foreign workers. When we look at the second largest market, the UAE, that country imposed a ban on our workers back in 2012 because, apparently, Bangladeshi recruiting agencies have been found to be involved in corruption and irregularities.
The situation is more or less the same with other countries in the Gulf and South East Asian nations, which have either frozen access of our workers to their markets, reducing the numbers of Bangladeshi migrant workers—or their numbers have remained stagnant. Nepal for instance successfully negotiated and struck a deal with Malaysia for their workers whereas we have not. This highlights procrastination on our part, which is hardly acceptable given the warning signs.
Besides tackling the obvious irregularities associated with recruiting agencies, Bangladesh needs to move into high gear on a number of other issues. We signed our MoU with Japan on recruiting skilled workers recently. Migration researchers believe that efforts need to be expedited in language training so that skilled workers are made language-proficient in a fast-paced manner, because Bangladesh is not the only country that will be vying to get a share of this lucrative market. Similarly, we have to wake up to new ground realities that the Middle East market for our workers is on the wane and we need to earnestly explore new markets for both unskilled and skilled workers, because inward foreign remittance brings in about USD 15 billion a year and we cannot take foreign labour markets for granted. Every country that has large overseas migrant populations is moving fast and unless we do the same, Bangladesh may miss the opportunities with disastrous impact.