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Dhaka Tribune

Prioritizing migration diplomacy in Gulf countries

There are growing opportunities in the Middle East that Bangladesh can secure with a skilled migrant labour force

 

Update : 21 Jan 2024, 04:50 PM

The newly formed government needs to map out foreign policy priorities to uphold the interest of the country and migration diplomacy should be the number one concern. In this case, the government can focus on skilled manpower export, which can be a game changer for Bangladesh’s socio-economic development. It will help to decrease the rate of unemployment in Bangladesh, and secure more remittances, which will help the country to increase foreign exchange reserves.

The urgency

The next five years are crucial for establishing migration diplomacy. The Middle Eastern countries are shifting their economy’s base from oil to other sectors such as sports, tourism, infrastructure, investment etc. Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Kuwait have declared their “Vision 2030,” “Vision 2030” and “Vision 2035” respectively. Thus, they will need additional manpower right away. 

On the other hand, European countries face low population growth, which means they have fewer people to sustain their economy. It is estimated that Europe will need a workforce of 43.7 million by 2050 to maintain its current working-age population proportion (Centre for Global Development, 2021). Therefore, the demand is immediate and urgent. Bangladesh should take proactive action to grab the new labour market. Otherwise, the competitor countries will take away the lavishing opportunities.

The Middle East branches out

The Middle Eastern countries are known for their natural wealth. Whenever someone hears the name Saudi Arabia or UAE, the first thing that comes to mind is oil and the word “petrodollar.” The countries of the Middle East are full of natural oil and gasses. They very much depend on oil to drive their economy. However, they realize that depending on a single source to run the economy could be disastrous, so they are searching for alternative ways of earning money for when there is no oil or the usage of oil decreases. 

It is evident from Saudi’s economic strategy that they no longer want to depend solely on oil. The country is firmly determined to increase the non-oil growth of the economy. Saudi Arabia is now implementing a bold economic reform initiative called “Vision 2030,” which involves substantial investments aimed at expanding into other industries such as tourism, undertaking large-scale infrastructure projects, and enhancing the financial and private sectors. This “Vision 2030” would make it a prime destination to migrate to, as due to this initiative, the country is in constant need of workers. 

Bangladesh already sends numerous workers to Saudi Arabia and other Middle Eastern countries. Even during the pandemic, the Gulf countries employed more than one lakh Bangladeshis. In 2021, Saudi Arabia accounted for 76% of all overseas employment for Bangladeshis. That year, Saudi Arabia employed 4.57 lakh Bangladeshi workers.

In 2023, Bangladesh broke all previous records by sending 13.07 lakh workers abroad. Among them, 7.8 lakh went to the Gulf countries. A substantial number of workers (4.98 lakh) went to Saudi Arabia. While Oman, the UAE, and Qatar received 1.28 lakh, 0.98 lakh, 0.56 lakh Bangladeshi workers respectively.

The numbers mentioned above prove that the Middle East is a lucrative destination for Bangladeshis. Bangladeshis are already contributing to the manual labour sector, such as construction. Since the Middle East is diverting its investment into sectors like tourism, hospitality, and technology, Bangladeshi citizens with proper skills in these sectors could join the workforce. 

Sending skilled and semi-skilled workers may bring more remittances than less skilled workers. Less skilled workers are paid a minimum wage, whereas skilled and semi-skilled workers get the highest amount. For instance, the Bangladesh government has set a minimum wage limit for outbound Bangladeshi workers, and the government will not accept any job offer below the proposed structure. According to the structure, in the UAE, a Bangladeshi worker with no or less skill gets roughly Tk36,000 to Tk56,000; in Saudi, the amount is Tk35,000-55,000. A semi-skilled worker earns approximately Tk41,000-62,000 in Dubai and Tk43,000-70,000 in Saudi. In Dubai, a skilled worker earns approximately Tk53,000-80,000, and in Saudi, Tk52,000-93,000 (The Financial Express, 2023). 

Bahrain, Libya, Kuwait, and Maldives are also under the government’s proposed structure, and the wage structure will be applied to the rest of the immigration destinations soon. Therefore, sending a skilled worker may bring three times more remittance than a less skilled worker. That means sending three less skilled workers is equal to sending a skilled worker. 

Emphasizing the role of the Ministry of Expatriates’ Welfare and Overseas Employment

To increase the scope of this ministry and to give importance to foreign employment, the Bangladesh government established a separate ministry named the Ministry of Expatriates’ Welfare and Overseas Employment on December 20, 2001. The vision of this ministry is to ensure safe immigration and socio-economic improvement through foreign employment. Therefore, this ministry holds paramount importance in facilitating foreign employment and making necessary diplomatic efforts to drive migration diplomacy for Bangladesh for the next five years. In this case, the ministry needs to be strengthened in terms of budget, manpower, and promotion.

One of the most effective actions could be to sign a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) regarding manpower supply. Previously, we have seen an erratic supply of manpower to countries such as Malaysia and Kuwait. They often put restrictions on recruitment from Bangladesh. The ministry should take action in this regard to ensure an undisrupted manpower supply. Signing of MoUs and treaties or agreements would create a strong base, and therefore, continuous manpower supply would be ensured.

Further, to conduct a successful migration diplomacy, a clear connection and collaboration between the Ministry of Expatriates’ Welfare and Overseas Employment and the embassies of Bangladesh in foreign countries is of paramount necessity. The ministry can use the embassies of Bangladesh to create a network with overseas industries and corporations. The embassy has the best opportunity to find connections abroad. A harmonious cooperation between the embassies and the ministry would ensure new networks abroad for manpower export.

The bottom-line is that migration diplomacy needs to be the number one diplomatic choice for Bangladesh in the next five years to ensure the continued prosperity and socio-economic development of the country.


Md Shariful Islam, PhD is an Associate Professor of International Relations at the University of Rajshahi. He is author of Blue Economy Diplomacy for Bangladesh. E-mail: [email protected]

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