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বাংলা
Dhaka Tribune

STRUGGLES OF MIGRANT WORKERS

Hidden costs of migration entrap Bangladeshi workers

This is the second of an 11-part series on the challenges faced by migrant workers

Update : 17 Mar 2024, 07:24 PM

Every year, many Bangladeshis migrate abroad with the dream of making a better life. But before their journey even begins, they are forced to endure a great deal of suffering. They are forced to pay money in installments to be able to go to their dream destination and in the process many families sell their properties in their villages. 

Research shows that recruiting agencies charge several times more than the fee set by the government to send workers abroad. Even the hard-earned money of the workers is not legally sent to the country, thus the government also loses a huge amount of revenue. Allegedly, a syndicate of recruiting agencies is involved in the entire process.

Those involved in the manpower sector said that it is a profitable business and there is money whenever a worker is sent through an agency. This is why many workers are sent abroad without their jobs being confirmed. 

According to the Bureau of Manpower, Employment and Training (BMET), there is an opportunity of sending workers abroad on a government to government basis in three countries. Under the procedure, there is an opportunity of sending female workers to Jordan at a cost of Tk18,240 and male workers at Tk26,800. Meanwhile, it would take a worker Tk36,860 to go to South Korea and no money at all to go to Malaysia. 

According to the list set by the government, it would cost a worker Tk2.6 lakh to go to Singapore, Tk1.65 lakh for Saudi Arabia and Tk1.45 lakh for Libya.

Asking for anonymity, a recruiting agency official said that fake companies have been opened in Malaysia to hire Bangladeshi workers. Employers in Malaysia are supposed to hire workers and pay the required cost. But they are charging around Tk1.15 lakh per worker. However, the government fixed rate in this case is only Tk78,990. 

He also said that 100 Bangladeshi recruiting agencies get demand letters to send workers through a lottery, but these lotteries are sold to other agencies. The first party charges Tk20,000 to Tk60,000 per worker in the process. In this way, the cost per worker in going abroad stands at Tk4.5 lakh. As it is a profitable business, agencies are eager to take workers from Bangladesh even if there is no work. Bangladeshi workers tend to be eager to go abroad as well. This opens up a golden opportunity for the agencies. 

According to BMET data, the number of valid recruiting agencies in the country is currently 2,136. Of them, 100 have permission to send workers to Malaysia. However, almost every agency has been accused of charging several times more than the government fixed fee.

The story is true of other countries, including Oman. According to BMET, recruiting agencies sent an average of 11,000 workers per month in 2023. One of them is Israfil Ali who hails from Tarakanda in Mymensingh.

Israfil told Dhaka Tribune that he went to Oman on February 17 last year after spending Tk4 lakh. The promise was that he would earn a monthly salary of Tk45,000. But he did not get a job for the first two months after going to Oman and remained unemployed. Later, he got the job of a cleaner. He is currently earning Tk25,000. 

In the case of Saudi Arabia, the highest immigration cost is Tk1.65 lakh. In some cases it is even less, as per the ministry's recruitment permit. Recruiting agencies can take this money through cheque, bank draft or pay order, the proof of which has to be submitted to BMET. But the money collected in real terms is several times higher. 

A recruiting agency named Aviat International had permission to send 30 workers to Saudi Arabia at a cost of Tk1.18 lakh last year. But the workers had to pay Tk4 lakh each. 

Shahriar Hossain from Chapainawabganj, who went to Saudi Arabia in February last year, was also sent at a cost of Tk4 lakh. He said he was kept at a house in the middle of a desert for three months and his visa expired. He had to spend 7 days in jail after that. Shahriar was sent back home in August the same year. 

Bangladesh Association of International Recruiting Agencies (Baira) President Abul Bashar said: “Earlier, the visas of the workers used to be traded by agencies. But now that problem has been solved to an extent. We take measures whenever there is an allegation.”

Ruhul Amin, secretary of the Ministry of Expatriates' Welfare and Overseas Employment, was contacted over phone but he did not respond. Outgoing senior secretary Dr Ahmed Monirus Salehin said: "The main problem is the tendency to go abroad at any cost. This tendency is exploited by the businessmen of the recruiting agencies."

Immigration expert Asif Munir Baratifi said: "Unethical immigration process is behind the tragic situation of Bangladeshi workers in various countries. No one gets any benefit even if the government sets a fee. As a result, the cost for workers is increasing. Most of the families are unable to support the workers later when there is trouble abroad. If we do not get rid of this situation, our workers will suffer in the long run.”

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