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OP-ED: What is the future of our migrant workers?

  • Published at 12:03 pm August 31st, 2020
Female migrant workers
Photo: Mehedi Hasan/Dhaka Tribune

The government must make an effort to increase the skill level of future expats

We are happy to know that our country has received $18.21 billion remittance in FY2019-20, which is highest in a fiscal year in the history of Bangladesh. It is not only the increase of remittance inflow but also the increase of foreign exchange reserve due to such remittance inflow contributed by our sonar manush (the migrants). Our Forex reserves crossed $38.15bn on August 17, 2020 due to the rise in remittance inflow. 

Experts identified a number of factors behind this significant increase of remittance inflow amidst of Covid-19 pandemic. It is not like our migrants’ income has gone up in recent times; rather, due to Covid-19, migrant-prone countries of Europe and Middle East have seen economic shortfalls and our migrants are facing various crises. 

According to them, job loss, wage cut, reduction of working time, and other facilities are forcing many of our migrants to send their savings as part of their plan to come back. Economic and health impacts of Covid-19 on hundreds of thousands of migrants, the celebration of two big religious festivals (Eid ul Fitr and Eid ul Azha) with the month of Ramadan were among the main motivations for many of our migrant workers to send more money from more than 150 countries to support their families. All these resulted in a significant increase in remittance inflow even with the loss of jobs, wage cut, and laying off.

We are blessed that our hard-working migrant population have been continuously contributing to keep our foreign currency reserve (FOREX) strong for so many years and have made remittance the second-highest foreign exchange earning source (around 40%) after the garments sector in Bangladesh. The government initiative of giving 2% cash incentive on remittance had a positive impact on this increase and it grew by 17.89% against $15.54bn in 2018. 

Covid-19 has abruptly changed various paradigms related to life and living, economy, job market, and employment. All over the world, people in both developed and developing countries are trying to find new ways to adapt to the post-Covid-19 new normal situation. Millions of workers in these countries are facing the bleak prospect of losing their jobs. 

But even with this adverse situation, many of the recruiting agencies (licensed or un-licensed) through their various middlemen (dalal) are now getting active in the remote rural areas. Unemployed youth, job losses, and the returned migrants will be prey to these middlemen with various offers. Many of them will be trafficked through various risky routes. The government and their various security agencies have to be alert so that our innocent young people (both male and female) do not become victims.   

Plan for reintegration, retraining, and remigration

Both returned migrants and the migrants abroad are now serious victims of Covid-19. They will have to face more challenges even after the withdrawal of the lockdown and the eventual resuming of flights in the most affected migrant-prone countries.

More migrants will have to come back due to loss of jobs. According to the data of expatriates' welfare ministry, a total of 78,043 Bangladeshi migrant workers returned home from 26 countries during the Covid-19 pandemic between April 1 and August 22. Among the returnees, 4,732 are female migrant workers.

Experts assume that due to the ongoing impacts of Covid-19, more migrants will return after losing jobs and more aspiring migrants will be stranded for a longer time until the economy of those affected migrant-prone countries get recovered. The outflow of migration will be much slower at least for next few months. It is also a fact that the local job markets have also been severely affected due to Covid-19 pandemic. A huge number of our factory workers have also lost their jobs.

An emphasis on skill

Our government along with other agencies must take immediate steps to develop an inclusive, equitable, and people-centred sustainable action plan to socially and economically (by giving easy access to loan and other necessary financial benefits and supports) reintegrate our returned migrants as well as to stimulate the process of re-migration to the countries, based on the new requirement, with necessary further re-skilling and skill development training. 

Experts say that with the export of skilled manpower, even if the number of migrants go down, our remittance will still go up. Targeted country-wise need-based technical and vocational education will pave the way to make our youth secure their jobs with much higher pays. 

All the technical and vocational training institutions must have language skill development training facilities, so that our young productive age people will also be skilled in communication. This will help them reduce other types of exploitations in their country of work. 

Our unskilled migrants who are coming to the country on vacation can also be connected with District Employment and Manpower Offices, so that they can also be given further skills development training free of cost for preparing them for better jobs in the future.  

Professor Saifur Rashid teaches Anthropology at Dhaka University.  

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