Study: 79% of women migrants jobless since return to Bangladesh

76% of returnees say they did not get days off despite working 14 hours a day on average


Around 79% of women migrants have found themselves out of work since returning to the country, according to a study. 

The study, participated in by 653 respondents who returned to and stayed in Bangladesh, from June 2019 to September 2021, found that 53% of them had never tried to work since returning while 26% had been unable to find jobs.

The findings of the study, conducted by the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) in collaboration with University of Dhaka, Lincoln University and Australian National University, were unveiled at a workshop in the capital on Thursday. 

The findings are a result of a first set of analyses as part of an evaluation aimed at reducing vulnerability to trafficking and forced labour of women and girls across migration pathways leading to the domestic care sector as well as textiles and footwear industries of the Arab states.   

Some 265 respondents returned home before the start of the pandemic while 388 returned after.

Of those who returned after the pandemic started, only 10% named Covid-19 as their reason for returning. 

The returnees said they were making 87% less than what they had been making abroad. 

Around 27% of the returnees reported being subjected to some form of abuse or threat by their employer while 76% said they had not gotten days off despite working 14 hours a day on average. 

A total of 37% of returnees did not receive due wages before they left and nearly 30% ran out of money while waiting to return to their homeland.

As many as 14% did not have access to healthcare abroad and 11% of them said they felt discrimination from the community since their return mostly because they had travelled abroad without a guardian.

Returning to the country had not reduced their struggles at all, they said. Among the respondents, 43% noted they had earned less than what they had been promised and an equal percentage of women said they had found themselves in their destination country without any friend. 

Researchers said no capital to start any local trade, having no effective financial supporting tools, no freedom in decision making, and lack of social and psychological effort were the key reasons behind their current situation, and the experiences they had abroad also remained unused.

What experts say

Dr Nazmun N Ratna, one of the researchers of the study from Lincoln University, said there was a need for strong reintegration policies for returnee migrants, focusing on women’s agency and psychological wellbeing.

“Working in inhuman conditions, after a certain period they could not make any money to invest upon returning. So they did not have the decision-making power and thus they are unemployed,” she said. 

“We did not find a single respondent who said they had gotten any sort of effective financial support to start anything,” she said, adding that those that had gotten something from NGOs was not enough to meet their needs. 

According to her, only 14% of returnees stated they had not had to pay for migration costs but the rest had to. 

Among them, 46% took loans from family or friends and 28% from local lenders.

The study found that women spent an average of Tk51,300 ($600) for migration—compared to average household monthly expenditure of TK11,000 ($128).

However, all women noted they had had to borrow money upon returning and 65% of it had been to meet household expenditures. 

Palli Karma-Sahayak Foundation (PKSF) Managing Director Dr Nomita Halder said these women needed to speak up and confront the middleman asking they were having to pay the money. 

Quoting a Saudi Arabia research, Nomita said no Bangladeshi female worker had ever called the police station for their safeguarding.

She attributed language barrier as one of the major issues and the unwillingness of migrants to use government facilities as another. 

“Many government organizations that support migration in Bangladesh need to be balanced with a stronger public scrutiny of outcomes for women migrants,” said Dhaka University Associate Prof Zahid ul Arefin Choudhury.

However, DU Sociology Department’s Prof Sadeka Halim said the problem did not lie in not using the facilities but in the negotiations that the government failed to ensure.

The government needed to ensure a safe migration process starting from the negotiation to sending a worker to her workplace, she opined.

Project Coordinator Dr Claudia Ringler on the other hand was of the view that information strategies, if directed at women who planned to migrate, could have positive impacts but it did not by any means guarantee positive migration outcomes.