Labour migration in slow lane
Sending migrant workers abroad continued to remain inadequate amid the pandemic compared to what the situation was during pre-pandemic times, which posed a challenge for the labour migration sector.
About 8.81 lakh migrant workers, with an average of 58,758 per month, were sent abroad in 15 months from January, 2019 to March last year, says Bureau of Manpower, Employment and Training (BMET) data.
But the number of new overseas employment dropped to 2.84 lakh or 16,731 per month in 17 months from April last year to August this year, according to the data.
Bangladesh stopped sending new workers abroad in late of March last year, with closure of international flights, following detection of the first Covid-19 positive cases in the country.
In the next three months -- from April to June last year -- not a single new worker was sent abroad. Later, sending workers resumed in July last year, but the monthly average continued to remain low.
The government has a target to send at least seven lakh workers abroad annually.
Sector insiders said shutdown to contain Covid-19 affected the sector badly, as activities regarding visa processing and
medical tests of workers were hindered greatly until recently.
At present, after meeting all kinds of Covid-19 related conditions, migrant workers are able to fly to popular destinations including Saudi Arabia, Oman and Qatar.
However, recruiting agencies continued to receive lower numbers of demand letters (request for workers) from foreign employers than what they would receive pre-pandemic.
Besides, a major job market in Southeast Asia, Malaysia, is still not taking workers from Bangladesh since September, 2018.
M Tipu Sultan, president of Recruiting Agencies Oikya Parishad, said because of the pandemic's fallout, they have been receiving a smaller number of demand letters.
"In the past one month, the number of demand letters [for new workers] was about 20,000 to 30,000. In normal times, the number would reach 60,000 to 70,000 a month," said Tipu, also a member of Bangladesh Association of International Recruiting Agencies (Baira).
Recruiting agencies could not send many workers despite possessing demand letters, due to various reasons amid Covid-19 restrictions. Moreover, overseas job markets have also shrunk during the pandemic, he said.
The country's labour migration sector has been greatly affected by the pandemic, he added, urging the government to take necessary steps, including timely inoculation of migrant workers to ensure that they can fly abroad.
OVERSEAS JOB SITUATION IN 2021
According to BMET data, in the first eight months this year, 2.75 lakh workers were sent abroad. Saudi Arabia, Oman and Singapore remained the top destinations for new migrant workers.
Of the 2.75 lakh new employees, about 2.15 lakh were in Saudi Arabia. Besides, 19,618 workers were sent to Oman and 12,482 to Singapore.
Moreover, Jordan hired 7,996 workers, United Arab Emirates 4,690, and Qatar 5,207.
Shakirul Islam, chairperson of Ovibashi Karmi Unnayan Program, said besides sending a greater number of workers, the government also needs to look at whether they are getting their promised job abroad.
Also, the government has to ensure that the workers are going abroad with required skills, he said.
Contacted, Shahidul Alam, director general of BMET, told The Daily Star that they have been providing all kinds of support to migrant workers, as per government directives, and maintaining health guidelines.