Two groups of recruiting agencies are at loggerheads over the Saudi embassy move to start visa service centres in Dhaka under two leading recruiting agents.
A section of the agencies, who are general members of Bangladesh Association of International Recruiting Agencies (Baira), says the plan to set up two Saudi visa centres is nothing but a ploy to create a cartel in the labour recruitment sector of Saudi Arabia.
But the Baira executive committee, which is supporting the visa centres, says such accusations are nothing but hypothetical statements. It also claims that the move will ease the procedural problems and benefit all the recruiting agents.
Usually, individual agents search job offers from Saudi employers, and once the workers are matched and deals are final, the employers send the visa numbers to the agents online.
The agents then prepare all the documents including passports of the aspirant migrants and submit those to the Saudi Embassy for visa stamping.
Recently, the embassy has decided to open two visa service centres in Dhaka -- one on Kamal Ataturk Avenue in Banani and the other on Gulshan North Avenue in Gulshan-2.
The embassy no longer wants to allow gathering of the agents on its premises as it is moving to the diplomatic zone in Baridhara soon.
The recruiting agents will have to submit the documents to the centres, which will then forward those to the embassy. The centres will deliver the papers to the agents after visa stamping.
Abdul Alim, a leader of the Saudi Visa Service Centre Nirmool Committee comprising the general members of Baira, said they have no problem with the embassy opening visa centres.
But the centres will be led by two top recruiting agents -- Mohd Noor Ali, managing director of Unique Eastern Pvt Ltd, and Mohammad Abdul Hye, proprietor of Greenland Overseas. “There is a direct conflict of interest here,” he said.
“The documents individual agents submit contain addresses of the employers. As the two recruiting agents will run the centres and get to know the employers’ contacts, they can eventually take away other agents’ business.”
The service centres will charge Tk 1,100 as fees per passport but they can hike the fees whenever they want and recruiting agencies will have no say, he added.
Alim also mentioned that they submitted a memo to State Minister for Expatriates Welfare and Overseas Employment Imran Ahmad, protesting the move.
According to the memo, Baira without seeking opinions from its general members endorsed the idea of Saudi service centres and wrote to the embassy.
The move of Noor Ali, one of the 10 recruiting agents accused of monopoly in labour recruitment in Malaysia and charging high recruitment cost between 2016 and 2018, and Abdul Hye, a cohort of Ali, will eventually lead to formation of another syndicate, it read.
Under such apprehensions, the general members of Baira held a protest meeting at a hotel on Saturday and held a human chain in front of the ministry. On Monday, they held a human chain in front of Baira office at Bangla Motor.
Also on Saturday, Baira leaders including Nur Ali and their supporters held a meeting at Dhaka Westin Hotel. Saudi Embassy’s Head of Consulate Ibrahim Ali Al-Humaidhi was present there.
Speaking at the event, Ibrahim Ali said the service centres are being initiated on orders from the Saudi government.
“Soon, we are moving to our new building in a new location. At present, it is difficult to accommodate all those who come to the embassy. In the new building, our minister is not allowing this gathering.”
He also said, “The Baira president is our adviser. Under his supervision, these service centres will operate.
“There is a misunderstanding that service centres will take away your business. This is not right. They will only act as submission and delivery centres.”
If the agents find any problem, they can come directly to the embassy, he said, according to a video clip of Saturday’s event.
Contacted, Baira Secretary General Shameem Ahmed Chowdhury Noman said the fear of a section of Baira members about the Saudi visa service centres is totally baseless.
First of all, he said, introducing the service centres is totally an issue of the Saudi Embassy. Neither Bangladesh government nor Baira has anything to say about it. But Baira has endorsed the idea as the embassy consulted it.
“Baira President Benjir Ahmed MP will be supervising the overall operation of the service centres. We are doing it for the sake of our members,” he told The Daily Star.
Traditionally, he said, an agency can submit passports to the embassy only on two days in a week and highest 60 passports a day.
But once the visa centres are in operation, they can submit passports on five days. There will be no limit on the number of passports a week.
At present, only some 650 agencies are listed by the Saudi Embassy for sending Bangladeshi workers to the kingdom, but once the visa centres are operational, all the 1,300 recruiting agencies will be enlisted.
Asked about the agencies’ concern that the service centres will eventually turn into a syndicate, Baira Secretary General Noman said, “It’s just a hypothesis.”
He said, “There is no scope for syndication of violation of business privacy.”
Talking to The Daily Star on Tuesday, Baira President Benjir Ahmed also echoed the same. “It is up to the Saudi embassy whether there will be a visa centre or not. It is the jurisdiction of the embassy to decide who will be in charge.”
Replying to a query, the Baira president said he will monitor the operations of the centres and “will take action if irregularities are found”.
Abdul Hye of Greenland Overseas said those opposing the Saudi visa centres are talking based on wrong perceptions.
“There is no way of syndication or manipulation. We have no scope to open the files the individual agents will submit to the visa centres,” he told The Daily Star on Tuesday.
Expatriates’ Welfare State Minister Imran Ahmed, Secretary Rownaq Jahan and Unique Eastern Managing Director Noor Ali did not respond to the calls or messages of this correspondent.