20th Anniversary Suppliments Archive

Securing contribution of non-resident Bangladeshis

Dr. Rashid Askari

Photo: Amirul Rajiv

'Non-resident Bangladeshi' (NRB) is an umbrella term that embodies the expatriate Bangladeshis permanently living as immigrant communities, and the migrant workers working on temporary overseas employment. The first section of people has formed ethnic minority societies known as Bangladeshi Diaspora while the temporary economic migrants may be called expatriate workers. They are earning foreign currency by the sweat of their brow, and sending remittances to their families. The migrant workers are sending remittances more than the Diaspora members, while the latter are making some investments too. The amount of foreign remittance is nearly nine times larger than the direct foreign investment.

Both the migrant workers and the Diaspora members, however, are contributing to Bangladesh's national economy by enhancing foreign exchange revenue. It is really an amazing fact that the expatriate manpower sector is the second largest source of our foreign exchange earnings, with garments manufacturing industry being the first. But the garments manufacturing industry is passing through such tumultuous times that emigrant manpower enterprise can easily beat it in the foreseeable future. The foreign remittances constitute one third of the country's total foreign currency savings. This huge reserve greatly contributes to our GDP and thereby places less reliance on foreign aid.

The exact number of the Bangladeshi Diaspora members scattered around the globe is difficult to ascertain. But a ballpark estimate of the migrant workers can be determined. It is more than five millions out of which about three millions are working in the Middle East and the Gulf states. According to World Bank statistics, more than 40 percent of the Bangladeshi expatriate workers are working in Saudi Arabia, 16 percent in United Arab Emirates, 10 percent in Kuwait, 10 percent in the United Kingdom, and the rest are scattered around the world. The amount of foreign remittance per year is more than 9 billion US dollars on average, and it is growing in volume every year (last year it was 12 billion). This amount could be no less than double if the money remitted through the unauthorized channels and brought in cash is taken into account. By 2015, the amount of revenues obtainable from the emigrant manpower sector is expected to reach 30 billion US dollars. More than 60 percent of the total remittance is coming from the Middle East and the Gulf states. All this is, however, a conservative estimate.

The migrant workers are being sent mostly by private recruiting agencies and social networks than by the government. Statistics show that 60 percent of them move on their own, 39 percent through the private recruiters and only 1 percent by the government. In last couple of years, despite the wholesale global recession, more than one million workers have been sent to one hundred and thirty two countries in the world. Most of them are recruited as unskilled and low-skilled oddjobbers.

Since the demand for low-skilled workers is increasing in some countries of Middle East and South East Asia, the prospects of Bangladesh manpower export enterprise may be booming provided of course it is properly taken care of. As workmen the Bangladeshis have by now earned for themselves quite a good name. The unemployed youth who idled away their times in their home country are now putting their shoulders to the wheel in the host countries for earning more money. The migrant communities are motivated entirely by self-interest to grit their teeth and carry on the odd jobs through myriad hardships. As ethnic minorities they are driven by a work ethic. We can see the inflow of remittances sent by them, but we cannot see the pains they undergo in the alien lands. They sometimes try to give an appearance of being happy burying their sighs, but their life is in a very sorry state. They are just surviving with sort of" where there's life there's hope" motive. So in order to ensure the prospects for this industry, we need to address ourselves to the problems that underlie it and try to resolve them. This is one of the most substantive issues that call for serious attention.

In the first instance, the government should make more inclusive strategies and a broader vision about the non-resident Bangladeshis as a whole. There should be a holistic Diaspora strategy and an expatriate working community development plan followed by effective and inexhaustible actions. This will first diagnose the nature and extent of the actual and potential problems lying in our expatriate world, and try to work out the solutions through pragmatic ways and diplomatic means. The concerned embassies can play a pivotal role in this regard. But our elite embassy-men are still steeped in the colonial hangover and are given to giving people the cold shoulder. They are reportedly to blame for being too much unsupportive to the migrant workers compared to their opposite numbers. So, in selecting the ambassador and other officials especially for countries where we have existing expatriate workers or manpower export possibilities, the government should be very judicious.

They should select the ones who are good career advisors and have great tact and diplomacy. They can better protect the migrant community interests by maintaining close relations with the host countries, and thereby can create a win win situation for furthering the prospects of overseas job-market. This has been a matter of great urgency in the present state of affairs when the outflow of migrant workers in on the wane due to global recession and other concomitant reasons.

Alongside the low and semi-skilled manpower, the skilled and high skilled manpower should be encouraged, and the unskilled ones should be deprecated to go abroad. A skilled worker can earn four times more than an unskilled or a low-skilled worker. Besides, the unskilled workers usually get no fixed jobs. They remain ill-paid and often bear the fortunes of drifters and earn a precarious living. The miseries of expatriate life are mostly suffered by them.These sorts of unskilled oddjobbers must be replaced by workers with vocational skills.

There is a growing demand for doctors, nurses, paramedics, engineers, technicians, teachers, management executives, and service sector experts. India, China, Korea, Philippines, Vietnam, Taiwan are meeting this demand more successfully than Bangladesh. Bangladesh should keep abreast of their manpower export strategies, and devise a no-nonsense policy to compete with them.

To cater to the needs of the global job market, our job-seekers must be fully equipped for overseas career. Adequate vocational training and guidance should be imparted to them both at home and abroad. In addition, they should have computer literacy and at least a smattering of the language of the host country and a sense of compliance with their laws and culture. A cautionary note may be mentioned here that the offenders should by no means be allowed to fly to the foreign countries slipping through the net.

The government and private recruiting agencies should focus on securing technical jobs in the existing markets in the old destinations on the one hand, and exploring new pastures in the developed countries on the other.

The sending of remittances through informal banking channels and spending of remittances on family expenses or conspicuous consumption are big hurdles on way to economic advances. The remitters should be warned against the informal channels and the overseas capital should be properly utilized. The hard-earned foreign currencies should be put to the productive or developmental uses like small family-run businesses and enterprises, which can easily turn out nice little earners. In addition, the remitters and their family should be well aware of different foreign currency investment facilities, bond instruments run by different banks and financial organizations.

The non-resident Bangladeshis, especially the Diaspora members can greatly contribute to the economic development of their home country through direct investment and transnational entrepreneurship. They are very much intent on investing in local industries. Bangladesh is one of the most suitable places for cost minimizing and profit maximizing ventures. Productions can be made here on the lowest possible wages. But their enthusiasm is little dampened by some setbacks like the social tensions and political instability which usually manifest themselves in hartals and hinder the smooth process of shipment and export. The entrepreneurs are also deterred by the perennial energy crisis. So, to woo the NRB investors and others as well, the government should provide a safe working environment and a fairly adequate infrastructure as far as reasonably practicable. There should be separate economic zones or industrial parks for the NRB investors. The concerned ministry should be invigorated to extend all out services to the non-resident Bangladeshis as a whole to make the best economic use of the remittances they send and investments they make, and thereby to build a strong Diaspora network.

Bangladesh has brighter prospects for economic development through manpower export industry for quite obvious reasons. Working abroad is increasingly attracting a lot of interest among the new generation who are taking it as a good career move. The recruiting agents have affirmed that good progress has been made in the inflow of quality manpower, and hence the country's foreign currency earning has increased in the recent months despite the steep decline in the inflow quantity. Bangladesh Association of International Recruiting Agencies too reassures that manpower export is likely to grow again in keeping with the current trends of the global economic upturn. The government seems to have a far-reaching plan for making the overseas employment industry a very big foreign exchange earner. They have planned to earn USD 31.40 in the Financial Year 201415 and hugely budgeted for its implementation. Teams are being sent to explore fresh manpower markets. While observing the last International Migranrs day (18 December, 2010) the premier herself has vowed the preservation of expatriates' rights, dignity and justice and promised full cooperation in the promotion of their cause. She has given her word to set up the Expatriate Welfare Bank for the financial support of the poor job-seekers. As one of the top labour exporting nations in the world, Bangladesh is going ahead to ratify the UN convention on the protection of migrant's rights passed in 1990.

The government should however maintain a balance in the influx of Bangladeshi migrant workers by giving more advantages to the comparatively insolvent man folks from the country's backward regions with a view to widening economic advancement throughout the country. They should essentially reduce the migration costs through safer institutional arrangements. Special training programmes should be carried out for the migrant workers for the preservation and expansion of the overseas labour market. Researches for exploring new labour markets, conducting training for potential workers and re-training for the returnees should also be undertaken.

But it is hard realizing such a big enterprise on the part of the government all by themselves. All concerned public and private agencies like the Expatriate Welfare and Overseas Employment Ministry, Bangladesh Bank, PCBs, NCBs, BAIRA and BOESL should put their heads together to find a way out. It is time to call a halt to the trickery of the fake and fraudulent manpower agents/ agencies who are robbing the jobseekers blind. The government has cautioned them and decided to make tough laws to ensure protection against all kinds of deception in manpower export activities. Be that as it may, the aspirants themselves should be cautious about the web of deceit in this sector.

The non-resident Bangladeshis are the geese that lay the golden egg. They should not go uncared for. They rather ought to be reared with far more attention and care for the greater interest of the country's economy.

Dr. Rashid Askari writes fiction and columns, and teaches English literature at Kushtia Islamic University. E-mail: rashidaskari65@yahoo.com