Worker Migration to ME, Malaysia: Overseas touts jack up costs
A nexus between the employers of migrant workers overseas and illegal manpower brokers there is jacking up the migration cost of Bangladeshi workers.
Recruiting agents and illegal brokers in the Gulf and Southeast Asian regions “buy” work visas from overseas employers and then “sell” those either to licensed recruiting agents or illegal brokers in Bangladesh making a huge profit.
Aspirant migrant workers end up paying for all this.
They spend a huge amount of money, mostly obtained by taking out loans on high interest rates or selling their assets, for the migration. And when they reach the foreign land, they discover their wages make it difficult for them to repay the loans.
It often puts them in a cycle of debt.
For instance, in the case of Saudi Arabia, Bangladesh has set Tk 1.65 lakh in migration cost for each worker, including fees for passport, recruiting agents, government charges, and airfare.
A Bangladeshi recruiting agent said when he contacted companies in Saudi Arabia regarding demand for workers, they told him that they had “sold” the work visas to Bangladeshi brokers there for Tk 3 lakh to Tk 4 lakh each.
“The work visas are not something that can be legally sold or bought. But, that's what is happening,” the agent told The Daily Star.
As a result, the total migration cost of the jobseekers is now between Tk 5 lakh and 6 lakh, the agent said.
The recruitment agent said they have to “buy” every single Saudi work visa for about Tk 3 lakh.
The agent said brokers in Saudi Arabia send addresses of people in Bangladesh who are relatives of migrant workers or business people in Saudi Arabia. The agents pay the relatives here in Bangladesh and the illegal brokers collect the money from the migrant workers or businessmen in Saudi Arabia and bribe the employers for work visas.
The Bangladeshi migrant workers or the businessmen would have otherwise sent the money home as remittance.
A study by Malaysian NGO Tenaganita in 2007 found migration cost for a Bangladeshi in Malaysia was Tk 1.6 lakh to Tk 2.2 lakh. Less than half the amount stays in Bangladesh as fees and profit for the recruitment agents and the rest is used in Malaysia to pay bribes.
“This amount, if not paid as kickbacks to the employers, their personnel or labour supply agents in the labour-hiring countries, would surely have been remitted to Bangladesh,” said another recruiting agent.
Bangladeshi migrant workers pay the highest recruitment costs in the world, said a World Bank report released in early 2015.
Citing a recent survey by the Global Knowledge Partnership on Migration and Development, the WB said worker-paid recruitment cost on average is $1,955 in Kuwait with the Bangladeshis paying the highest, between $1,675 and $5,154.
The average cost of migration for male Bangladeshis, between 2014 and 2015, was Tk 3.8 lakh and for females Tk 1 lakh, according to a 2015 study by the Refugee and Migratory Movements Research Unit (RMMRU) and the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC).
These findings are in sharp contrast to the International Labour Organisation (ILO) convention which says that migrant workers should not be paying recruitment fees or costs anywhere.
RMMRU Executive Director Professor CR Abrar said a migrant worker is not supposed to spend more than Tk 40,000 for passport, medical test, government and recruiting agent fees in Bangladesh.
“Ideally, all other costs, including airfare, have to be taken care of by the employers,” he said.
Labour migration researcher in Qatar Ray Jureidini in an ILO report said migrants have to take loans at high interest rates (30 to 60 percent), sell family assets and use their savings to finance the migration.
For Qatar, the government fixed migration cost at Tk 84,000 only. But Masud Mia spent Tk 6.5 lakh to go to Qatar two years ago, borrowing most of the money at 30 percent interest.
“I am yet to repay the loan,” said Masud, who works as a welder in Doha and gets around Tk 30,000 a month even though he was promised Tk 50,000 a month.
“I get frustrated when I think about how I would repay the loans and save some,” the 28-year old told this correspondent from Qatar where he works 11 hours a day.
It is not only the workers who are hurting. Bangladesh is also being deprived of a huge amount of foreign exchange due to these illegal brokers, corrupt employers abroad, and the illegal money transactions through hundi.
However, the practice of illegal money transactions is widespread in almost all the countries recruiting workers from Bangladesh and other Asian labour-sending countries, said Ray Jureidini in the ILO report.
As a result, a large number of low-skilled workers in the Arab countries face forced labour and debt bondage, he added.