The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA), since the beginning of 2017, saw the biggest ever outflow of expatriate workers. More than 667,000 workers have left the country so far, the Financial Times (FT) said last week, quoting the government data.
The international financial daily listed two reasons---imposition of higher fees on expatriates and sluggish KSA economy--- responsible for the expatriates leaving the oil-rich Gulf nation in large numbers.
The KSA authorities imposed a monthly fee of $26.70 on expat dependants a year ago. The fee is set to rise gradually to $106 by July 2020.
The main objective behind levying fees on employers of foreign workers is to reduce the dominance of the latter in the KSA private sector through greater induction of the Saudi nationals.
Whether the latest move has worked or backfired is an issue that deserves discussion, no doubt. But what is more important for Bangladesh is the impact of the imposition of fees on the movement of its workers to the KSA.
The Saudi authorities have lately decided to relax its attitude towards foreign workers since not many of their nationals are found interested to take up jobs that are usually filled up by the expatriates.
The number of expatriate workers leaving the KSA is substantial and there must be some Bangladeshis among them. Is the Bureau of Manpower and Employment (BMET) aware of the development?
The employers usually do pass on the fees to their workers. In that case, the wages that unskilled workers receive these days is a pretty small amount, given the fact that wages in KSA have shrunk considerably in recent years following decline in oil prices. Thus, the low wage-earning workers must be hard-hit by the fee imposed by the Saudi government.
So, we need to know how many workers affected by the KSA decision are coming back to the country. But it is really difficult to know because of the fact that no official agency in Bangladesh or Bangladesh mission in the KSA keeps track of the number of migrant returnees.
The relevant government agencies here are more interested in beating drums about the number of people leaving the country securing jobs abroad and the amount of money they are remitting every month.
What is the actual number of Bangladeshi workers employed in different countries now? The BMET has a figure---11.84 million---posted on its official website. The figure refers to the total number of Bangladeshi workers staying abroad with jobs between 1976 and June, 2018. Besides, thousands of Bangladeshis go abroad, beyond the knowledge of the BMET, in search of jobs. These people manage tourist visas and work illegally in many countries.
But it is important to know the actual migration rate of Bangladeshi workers.
The BMET compiles data on workers going abroad. But there is no way of knowing how many of them coming back home at the end of their contract periods or for some other reasons.
Since many people are working illegally, the BMET does not have any information about them. But they surely can manage information through Bangladesh missions abroad.
Such statistical gap in areas of foreign employment is bound to weaken the quality of government programmes and planning.
Moreover, the government has developed a number of schemes for the welfare of Bangladeshi expatriate workers. But if the government does not have necessary information about the whereabouts of those people, how will these plans and programmes work?
So, it is important to ensure that the returnee workers leave necessary information at the immigration desks on arrival. The BMET would regularly collect those information and compile those for future use.
However, the returnee workers would leave such information only if there is guarantee that it might fetch them some benefits, financial or otherwise, at some point of time.
Meanwhile, migration of workers to the KSA that saw an upturn during the last two preceding calendar years after a drought-like situation has again slowed down this year.
After a lull in recruitment between 2009 and 2015, the recruitment of Bangladeshi workers picked up again in 2016 when nearly 150,000 workers went to the KSA. More than 500,000 workers, the largest ever number of workers, officially, went to that country in 2017. In fact, half of the total Bangladeshi workers leaving the country with jobs abroad in 2017 went to the KSA. But the outflow has slowed down this year as nearly 145,000 workers have gone to that country between January and June this year.
Given the role of remittance in the country's economy, it is important to compile genuine data concerning workers abroad. It may not be possible to keep track of the people working illegally in various countries, but the same should not be a problem in the case of inflow and outflow of legal workers.
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