Middlemen and brokers are taking advantage of people desperately trying to go to Middle Eastern countries by selling them plain old labour visas after dubbing them ‘free visa.’
Migrating to Saudi Arabia legally does not cost more than Tk165,000 -- several other Middle East countries cost less than Tk90,000 -- but the so-called ‘free visas’ are sold for as much as Tk10 lakh.
Brac Migration Head Shariful Islam Hasan said it was a scam. “There is nothing called ‘free visa.’ It is plain old labour visa,” he said.
“Middlemen or brokers use this term to convince people that with this visa, they can freely choose employers,” Shariful added.
The Middle East, a popular destination for migrant workers from the South Asian country, is Bangladesh’s largest manpower export market and also the biggest source of remittance.
In a report, the Transparency International Bangladesh explained that people or companies in the Gulf states willing to hire migrant workers issue demand notes or ‘kofil.’
Unscrupulous businesses, in association with brokers, issue additional ‘kofil’ that are later sold to aspirant migrant workers at exorbitant prices.
This is known as ‘free visa’ in Bangladesh.
In Saudi Arabia, anyone found selling or buying visa illegally face 15 years of imprisonment.
[caption id="attachment_234591" align="aligncenter" width="800"]
Bureau of Manpower, Employment and Training (BMET), told the Dhaka Tribune that they had published awareness notices in national dailies about ‘free visas’ scam Rajib Dhar/Dhaka Tribune
SK Rafiqul Islam, director (Employment) at Bureau of Manpower, Employment and Training (BMET), told the Dhaka Tribune that they had published awareness notices in national dailies about ‘free visas’ scam.
Going to the Middle East on such visa, which is illegal, has its downsides. A migrant worker has to look for jobs himself and face legal hassles.
Bangladesh has government-to-government agreements with a number of countries including Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar, Oman, UAE, Bahrain, Iraq, Iran, Turkey and Malaysia.
The agreements allow Bangladesh to send workers to signatory countries legally and at lower costs. This also helps guarantee the workers’ rights but it limits their choice as they have to work for a certain employer for a particular period of time.
Many, however, opt for the illegal ‘free visa’ that allows them to work multiple jobs simultaneously -- which means, they can earn more if the situation favours. Numerous migrant workers lured by this take the shortcut.
One such victim was Joynal Abedin’s 22-year-old son Nazmul Hasan, who went to Oman last year on a ‘free visa’ to work at a hotel as housekeeper-cum-cleaner.
Just seven months later, on January 18, Joynal was told that his son had died after falling off the hotel’s roof.
The distressed father said his son had told him that the employer had seized his passport and had not paid him for four months. Joynal said the visa had cost him about Tk4.5 lakh.
Going to Oman legally would have cost only Tk84,000.
A woman, whose husband is in Saudi Arabia, said he was on a ‘free visa’ that they had bought for Tk12 lakh.
“It is better than the labour visa since it allows the holder to choose jobs and extend stay time,” Romana, a 32-year-old housewife, claimed. “It also decreases the risk of getting arrested.”
BMET’s Rafiqul disagreed, saying: “A migrant worker can enjoy his rights only if he goes legally.”
“But if someone takes shortcuts and goes to other countries illegally, then the worker will be deprived of his rights and will constantly be at the risk of being arrested and deported,” he said.