International labour migration | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, February 05, 2016 / LAST MODIFIED: 12:00 AM, February 05, 2016

International labour migration

Hurdles ahead

International labour migration has been an integral part of Bangladesh's economic and social Development since the 1980s. It creates employment, ensures stability to foreign exchange reserve and in the context of 7th five-year plan of the country, it offers additional avenues to the government to attain its long term developmental goals.Along with the review of the challenges and achievements of government, this piece suggests steps that can be taken in migration governance in the coming years.  First let us look at level and extent of migration during recent years.


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In2015, a total of 5,38,667 workers have migrated overseas from Bangladesh to take up employment.  In 2014, the total number who went was 425,684. In 2013, it was 409,253. Compared to 2014, this year migration flow has increased more than 30%, while when compared to last four years combined, it increased by 35%. There is no system of keeping data on returnee migrants.The recently conducted SDC and RMMRU household survey (2015) found that 9% of the migrant households were returnee migrant HHs. The number of female migrants has been on the rise over the last few years. Since January to November 2015, a total of 91,858female workers has gone abroad to take up employment. This is more than 19% of the total flow of the year. In 2014, the number of female migrant was 76,007 and again it was 18% of the total flow. 

Almost 80% of the workers, who migrated in 2015, went to the Gulf and other Arab countries. The average flow of migration over the last 39 years also depicts the same scenario (82%). The remaining 20% went mostly to different South East Asian countries(1,25,492). 23% of the workers migrated to Oman. Compared to the last year, total share of Oman increased 9%. Qatar received the second highest number of migrants from Bangladesh (22.4%). This year, a substantial increase of migration to Saudi Arabia has been noticed. Saudi Arabia accounts for almost 10.22% of the total migrants. This is the highest migration flow to Saudi Arabia in the last 7 years, followed by Singapore. A significant rise has been noticed in migration flow to Malaysia this year. This can be seen as one of the most important developments in migration flow of this year. UAE government's ban on migration of male workers still remains.  This year only 24,898 workers had migrated to UAE and almost 92% of them are female workers. UAE is the single most important destination for the Bangladeshi female migrant workers in 2015, followed by Jordan (21.69%), Oman (16.88%),Saudi Arabia(16.4%), Lebanon (9.1%), Qatar (8.76%) and Mauritius (1.3%).

Flow of remittance

This year the labour migrants remitted more than USD15 billion. Last year the remittance figure was USD 14.94 billion. Since 2013, Bangladesh has been the seventh largest remittance receiving country of the world. Similar to last year, this year as well Saudi Arabia is the highest remittance sending country for Bangladesh (21.49%).It is followed by UAE (18.14%) and the USA (16.11%). Although, till date highest amount of remittances are sent from Saudi Arabia, but it's total share is falling each year. In earlier years, 50% of the total remittance received was from Saudi Arabia. Bangladesh experienced a substantial increase of remittance flow from Malaysia in 2015 compared to the previous year. A total of 6.8% remittances were received from Kuwait this year another 6% from Oman, 2.1% from Qatar and 2.67% from Singapore.

Still a significant amount of remittance comes through informal channels such as hundi, friends or relatives. It is obvious that, amount of actual remittance flow to the country is much higher than the official flow. However, it is expected that, due to the growing consciousness among the migrants and also the flexibility in money transfer system, the percentage of informal flow is gradually decreasing.

Contribution of migration

A research book titled 'Impact of Migration on Poverty and Local Development' published by SDC and RMMRU in2015 shows that in the period of 2014 and 2015 migration cost in average for male is about Tk. 3,80,000, whereas female migrants spent about Tk. 1,00,000 as migration cost. The report also reveals that male migrants remit about Tk. 2,00,000 a year. On the other hand, female migrants remit Tk. 80,000 a year. While female migrants earn less than male migrants, they (female) remit 90% of their total income, male migrants remit 50% of their income.      

A comparative study among both migrant and non-migrant households shows that annual income of the household with international migrant is Tk. 2,60,000. And annual income of non-migrant household is Tk. 1,14,000 while national rural annual average income is Tk. 1,15,000.

According to the Bangladesh Bureau Statistics (BBS), 26% of the rural population is living under the poverty line. SDC and RMMRU survey found that only 13% of international migrants' family is living under poverty line, whereas 40% of non-migrant family and 46% internal migrants' family live below poverty line.  A current research study by RMMRU and RPC found that migrants' households spend much more money for primary and secondary level education than non-migrants' household. But for higher education they spend less money comparing to non-migrants' household. From this finding, it could be assumed that migration is one kind of disincentive for higher education.


Entry to 3 traditional labour markets

This year, Bangladesh experienced breakthrough in re-entering into 3 of its traditional labour markets. These are Kuwait, Saudi Arab and Malaysia. After about eight years, Kuwait government resumed hiring Bangladeshi workers from February 2015. As of December 23, a total of 16,833 workers went to Kuwait. This is almost 3.5% of the total flow from the country. Kuwait imposed ban or restriction on recruiting Bangladeshi workers once in early 2000 and then again in 2006, based on a murder incident as well as malpractices in the recruitment process by Bangladeshi private agencies. Before the ban, it was one of the major destinations for Bangladeshi workers in the Gulf region. It is extremely important to nurture good relationship with the Kuwaiti government to continue the process. Women workers were migrating Saudi Arabia for last few years. This year a substantial portion those who migrated this year is men (75.5%).

In June 2015, the governments of Malaysia and Bangladesh signed a new labour recruitment agreement known as G2G+.  Soon after, the Malaysian home minister announced that his government will recruit 1.5 million Bangladeshi workers in the next three years through private sector under the new agreement. After the announcement migration flow to Malaysia increased steadily. On an average, 3,000 workers migrated to Malaysia every month since June this year. On the contrary, only 150 workers were migrating per month in the first half of the year.

Hosting of GFMD

Global forum on migration and development is a UN initiative that highlights the contribution of migrant workers in development. It also attempts to ensure better protection to migrants and Diaspora. The 9th annual Global Forum on Migration and Development will be chaired by and hosted in Bangladesh in 2016. Preparation for the event has already started, as the event is estimated to attract 500 delegates from around the world.

Role in inclusion of migration in SDG

Bangladesh played an important role in incorporating migration in the sustainable development agenda 2030. In collaboration with SDC, the government hosted the expert group meeting at Dhaka. The meeting was attended by delegates of 60 countries. It made six recommendations under 5 broad categories including health, development and education. Along with other efforts, this meeting sensitised the policy makers, and migration was successfully incorporated in SDGs.


Irregular migration

Despite continuous awareness campaigns by the NGOs, civil society and government agencies, irregular migration has been a major concern. The boat migration to South-East Asian countries particularly to Malaysia and Thailand became a dangerous phenomenon which has been termed as “slave trade” in migration era over the year of 2014 and 2015. A new irregular migration route has been introduced and become highly active in 2015. With the flow of Syrian refugees migrating to the European region, a number of Bangladeshis are trying to illegally reach Europe. Sudan has become a hotspot in 2015 as a transit country for the people from Asia and Africa. The Bangladeshis are going to Sudan on tourist visa and then from their human smugglers or traffickers help them to cross border and enter Libya.

Migration to volatile countries: Labour migration to politically unstable countries is also a major concern for Bangladesh. Around 14,000 people have migrated to Iraq in 2015 which is about 2.6% of the total flow. Despite the ongoing crisis in major parts of Iraq and absence of stable governance, why the government of Bangladesh allowed people to migrate in this volatile region is a matter of concern.

Expulsion of irregular migrants

Malaysian Government has taken decision to expel the irregular migrants from their country from January 2016. Most of those who are now considered as irregular, may have entered Malaysia with legal visa. Later when the employers failed to provide them with work, they themselves found work at other companies. In this process they have become irregular. Besides, many of the irregular migrants who had entered in Malaysia using maritime rout are also in difficulties.

Inability to provide MRP passports

From November 2015, only MRP passportsare acceptable for foreign travel.Bangladesh Government out sourced the task of issuing the MRP passport to a Malaysian Farm.  The company is yet to provide such passport to at least 500 000 Bangladeshis abroad. A large number of Bangladeshis are in deep trouble as their work permits are dependent on valid visa stamp on a valid passport.

Decision to transfer fund to PKB from WEWF

In 2012, Probashi Kallyan Bank was established to provide loan to would be migrants. It was formed with a capital of 100 crore. 95% of the fund was given from the Wage Earners' Welfare Fund, a fund created by the subscription from labour migrants and only 5% was provided by the government. The founding principle of the PKB states that in future the speed up capital of the bank has to be generated from others sources. In 2015 it could disburse loan only to5463 would be migrants through 48 branches. However, without any assessment of the performance of the organisation, the Parliamentary Standing Committee on the relevant ministry again recommended to transfer 300 crore taka from WEWF to PKB.

Poor staffing of TTCs

There are 53 Technical Training Centers (TTCs) including 6diploma level Marine under the BMET. In 2015, 81,000 participants received skill training on different trade. Number of trainees and centers are being increased every year but instructors are not recruited proportionately.  Ensuring quality of training is a major challenge.

Role of Labour Attaches

Labour attaches are the main points of contact between the migrants at destination and their country of origin. Currently labour attaches are posted in 17 countries. Insufficient number of labour attaches creates major problems in providing services to the migrants. In Bahrain hundreds of Bangladeshis are in detention centres awaiting trails in prison, or serving sentences or facing deportation. In the growing trend of female migration from Bangladesh, it is essential to appoint more female staffs at labour wings abroad.

This piece shows that in governing migration, Bangladesh has made great achievements in the international arena, it has also been successful in making a breakthrough in re-entering some of its traditional markets. After five years it has been successful in increasing its annual labour flow. New researches show positive outcomes of migration for the migrant families. However, governance of migration needs major improvement. Given the positive outcomes of migration, Government needs to develop a national strategy to integrate migration in every development planning. To host the GFMD successfully, the government should seek collaboration of civil society from the very beginning.

The writer is Chair, RMMRU and Professor of the Department of Political Science, University of Dhaka.

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