The coronavirus fallout and slumping oil prices may lead to the deportation of up to 10 lakh Bangladeshi migrant workers from Saudi Arabia in the next three to five years, according to the Bangladesh mission there.
The Gulf country's policy to replace 70 percent of the foreign workers by its citizens within 2030 could be another reason for the deportation, mission officials fear.
The embassy in a report sent to the foreign ministry recently recommended the government seek alternative labour markets, possibly in African countries.
Officials say it might be possible to employ about 40 lakh Bangladeshis in farming, aquaculture, livestock and different factories in African countries.
Saudi Arabia, the most popular destination of Bangladeshi migrant workers, is home to more than 20 lakh Bangladeshis.
The embassy report said Saudi authorities are introducing monthly fees for dependents of foreign workers and increasing the fees for iqamas or residency permits as they are implementing the "Saudization policy" which was formulated in 2016.
According to the report, the recent record dip in oil prices would slow the development works in Saudi Arabia. "Many of the projects may get delayed or suspended."
The Bangladesh mission also cited automation and requirement of skilled workers as factors that could lead to deportation of Bangladeshi workers in the future.
In January and February this year, around 1.29 lakh Bangladeshis travelled abroad for employment. At least 95,385 or 73.87 percent of them went to Saudi Arabia, according to the Bureau of Manpower, Employment and Training.
Saudi Arabia is rapidly introducing robotics and automation in all sectors, and even cleaning and maintenance jobs are being taken over by automation.
Between 70 and 80 percent of cleaners in the country are from Bangladesh and a large number of them are likely to be deemed redundant in the next few years, said the embassy report.
It said the Covid-19 fallout came as the last straw. "This will further hit Saudi crude oil prices... meaning, the suspension of many ambitious projects in the Kingdom, and a large number of migrant workers will be deported immediately."
The Daily Star has a copy of the report.
Saudi labour ministry officials in a recent meeting made it clear that they will soon be recruiting only the skilled workers with valid certificates.
Bangladesh Ambassador in Saudi Arabia Golam Moshi said the government should look into the matter seriously and form an expert committee to explore alternative labour markets.
"We cannot sit idle under such a situation," he told The Daily Star.
Bangladesh officially earns around $3 billion a year in remittance from Saudi Arabia. The amount may be around $7.5 billion if illegal money transfers are counted, he said.
Due to mainly six reasons, including the oil price dip and the Saudization policy, the Saudi government is likely to deport Bangladeshi workers, Moshi told The Daily Star over the phone.
Since the Covid-19 pandemic, the Saudi authorities have been deporting migrants from different countries.
Besides, there are around two to three lakh Bangladeshis staying in Saudi Arabia illegally. "Most of these Bangladeshis have not earned anything in the last two months."
The Saudi government is planning to send all of them back in the next one and half years, Moshi wrote to the Bangladesh foreign ministry.
Syed Saiful Haque, co-chair of Bangladesh Civil Society for Migrants (BCSM), said losing the biggest labour market is a matter of great concern and a looming threat.
The government should immediately launch diplomatic efforts to stop the deportation, he said.
After the pandemic, the prime minister and foreign minister should consider visiting the countries where there are many Bangladeshi migrant workers.
"Otherwise, Bangladesh may face a disaster," warned Saiful.
The BCSM recently wrote to the United Nations secretary general calling for steps to prevent forced return migrant workers from several Middle East countries.
He said all stakeholders, including civil society members and government officials, should launch efforts to protect migrant workers.