Migrants’ contribution to the 50-year journey of Bangladesh
As Bangladesh celebrates its Golden Jubilee, and marks 50 years of independence, there is much to look back on and even more to look forward to. The country is poised to transition from least developed country (LDC) status to a lower middle-income country, largely owing to steady peaceful development throughout the first 50 years of the country's existence. In 1972, the Bangladesh's GDP was USD 6.29 billion, and today - 50 years later – it stands at USD 318 billion; more than a fifty-fold increase.
Evidently Bangladeshi migrants, particularly migrant workers, have played a critical role in their country's achievements – and with some support they can play an even more catalytic role in the next 50 years of development. Bangladeshis are the sixth largest group of migrants in the world, with more than 13 million citizens outside of the country globally. These men and women have sent back over USD 235 billion in remittances since 1976. Last year, despite the impacts of COVID-19 which detrimentally impacted remittance flows globally, Bangladesh benefitted from USD 21.9 billion in remittances. The consistency and dependability of remittances has been both a coping strategy and a safety net for many communities, and have played an increasingly important role during the current pandemic.
Not only is Bangladesh a young country, but Bangladeshis are a young people – with over 2.2 million people joining the workforce every year. This is too many for the domestic economy to absorb, but the demographic dividend presents a significant opportunity to migrate for work in countries which find themselves at the other end of the demographic curve, with developed economies but a rapidly aging population, unable to sustain their economy without the help of a younger migrant labour force. Supply meeting demand that, most of the time, benefits all parties involved.
A big part of our job however, as the UN Migration Agency in Bangladesh, is not only to facilitate migration for the benefit of all, but to identify the existent shortcomings and assist the Government in resolving them. Maximising gains for economic growth, while reducing exploitation and protecting vulnerable migrants.
Some of this thinking needs to go into addressing the lack of awareness of risks among the populace, investing in upskilling of potential migrants, and focusing on ethical recruitment practices. It is critical that bilateral labour migration agreements are in place to ensure Bangladeshis can pursue formal and well-paid employment in countries of destination, rather than being forced to accept underpaid jobs in abusive working environments.
Investment in skills is key. Our data shows that skilled labour migrants send on average USD 255 more home per month than lower skilled migrants. Migrants' skills also determine how remittances are invested and saved, with skilled migrants requesting family members to invest remittances into savings accounts whereas less skilled migrants generally use them to pay off loans and debts. Lower skilled workforce yields lower return on migration.
Analysis shows that remittances are generally used to meet short-term consumption needs and are rarely used to diversify assets or build economic resilience, which further increases households' dependence on remittances. Low financial literacy among migrants and their family members puts them in a precarious situation in terms of income stability, remittance management, and asset building. Whilst the migrants and their families know best how to utilise their proceeds, in some cases more can be done to present quick-yield options for those with surplus income.
Moreover, measures should be taken to improve debt management and formalise savings to mitigate the vulnerabilities of both labour migrants and remittance receiving families. This would create an opportunity for financial independence of many individuals, families and communities. Policies that foster financial inclusion can make a significant impact on wealth generation and economic development at all levels, especially in the least developed districts of the country.
Likewise, it behooves us to remember that migration policy is rarely gender blind. All of these strategies need to be planned and designed in a gender-responsive manner, especially keeping in mind the special needs and interest of women, who often find themselves at the centre of discrimination and exploitation. Investing more in empowering women migrants will reap far-reaching benefits for local growth and national development.
Now more than ever we need to focus on supporting remittance-dependent communities impacted by the COVID-19 induced global slowdown and dwindling migration opportunities. International Organization For Migration (IOM) is committed to continue its partnership with the Government of Bangladesh to prioritise and mainstream skills development of migrant workers so they can increase earning and reduce vulnerabilities, to focus on providing financial literacy training, particularly to women, and to build resilience and financial independence of remittance-reliant households.
Global Compact for Migration, which was initially proposed by the Hon. Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina at the UN General Assembly in 2016, offers a useful governance framework for capitalising on the advantages of well-regulated migration and ensuring that no one is left behind.
We at IOM Bangladesh reiterate our congratulations to the country on its Golden Jubilee and share in the excitement of the next half century to come. Citius, Altius, Fortius!
Giorgi Gigauri is the Chief of Mission, IOM Bangladesh