International Migrants Day: Migration cost high, pay low
Shahidul Mia (not his real name) spent about Tk 4 lakh to get employed in Saudi Arabia last year.
The 35-year-old from Munshiganj paid a portion of the money to a recruiting agency in Dhaka and the rest to a local intermediary as per a verbal agreement.
His construction sector job in Riyadh paid Tk 30,000 a month.
High cost of migration and poor pay abroad is not rare in this country. Many migrants spend years paying off the debt they incur before migrating.
According to Cost of Migration Survey-2020 of Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics (BBS), Bangladeshi workers need nearly 18 months on average to recover the money they pay for migration.
For men it is over 19 months and for women a little under six months.
"The migration cost in Bangladesh is one of the highest in the world but what a Bangladeshi migrant worker earns is one of the lowest globally," said Shariful Hasan, head of Brac Migration Programme.
This is mainly because of high demand for work visas by a large number of unemployed people in the country, he told this newspaper.
The BBS survey says an estimated average recruitment cost for migrants was Tk 4.17 lakh between 2015 and 2018. This includes service charge of the recruiting agency, airfare, and passport, medical, and visa fees.
The cost for migrating to Singapore was Tk 5.74 lakh, Saudi Arabia Tk 4.36 lakh, Malaysia Tk 4.04 lakh, Qatar Tk 4.02 lakh, and Oman Tk 3.08 lakh.
This is in stark contrast to government-fixed migration costs for male workers heading to 14 countries in 2017. The highest, Tk 1.66 lakh, is for Russia and the lowest, Tk 97,780, is for Bahrain.
As his attention was drawn to the high migration cost mentioned in the BBS survey, Expatriates' Welfare Minister Imran Ahmad said as far as his knowledge, the ministry did not have any such figures. "It may be the case … but we don't have the figures."
The BBS survey found that the average monthly wage of Bangladeshi migrants was Tk 25,600. The average wage for a male migrant was Tk 27,000 and female migrant Tk 18,000.
An International Organisation for Migration (IOM) data bulletin, published in December 2018, said it took about nine months' earnings for a Bangladeshi migrant worker in Kuwait to recover the recruitment costs, whereas an Indian migrant worker needed less than three months' earnings.
To recover recruitment costs in Qatar, an Indian worker needed more than two months' earnings, a Filipino worker a little over one month's earnings, and a Nepali worker more than three months' earnings.
The bulletin also said low-skilled migrants returning from Gulf Cooperation Council countries in 2015 reported earnings of $265 to $500 a month, and recruitment costs that ranged from $400 for Filipinos to $4,000 for Pakistanis.
According to experts, migration costs have shot up in Bangladesh as recruiting agencies have to pay a lot to get those visas, which is known as "visa trading".
Several middlemen in labour sending and receiving countries are involved in such prohibited "selling and buying" of work visas, ultimately increasing the cost of migration and causing labour exploitation, they said.
Shakirul Islam, chairperson of Ovibashi Karmi Unnayan Program, said although migrant rights groups have long been vocal for reducing migration cost, the situation remained unchanged as most recruiting agencies involved in such malpractice were not brought to book.
In most cases, workers pay money to the middlemen or intermediaries who work on behalf of recruiting agencies, he said.
In such a situation, there is no accountability regarding how much a middleman will charge a worker, Shakirul said.
To reduce migration cost, he suggested the government can take an initiative under which it will pay the recruitment cost to the recruiting agencies.
Later, the worker can reimburse the government, he said, adding, "This way, charging workers high will reduce."
On "visa trading", Shariful said Bangladesh alone cannot reduce the migration cost and that the labour receiving countries have to come forward.
The government needs to discuss the matter with recruiting agencies and find out the "real" migration cost, he said.
He also said if workers' skills could be developed, then it would help reduce migration cost.
Shameem Ahmed Chowdhury Noman, secretary general of the immediate past committee of Bangladesh Association of International Recruiting Agencies, said it was not possible to send workers abroad at the government-fixed rate.
He said when the cost was fixed, the airfare for Dubai was about $150 (about Tk 12,891) and for Saudi Arabia $300 (about Tk 25,800). Now those fares are Tk 70,000 to Tk 80,000 and Tk 80,000 to Tk 1.10 lakh.
He urged the government to take effective steps for reducing migration costs and suggested the introduction of "labour airfare" that is between $250 and $300.