Bangladesh would push for opening its own bank branches in Saudi Arabia at an upcoming negotiation, aiming to net remittances and funds from expatriates.
Officials concerned said the latest bid for opening branches of Bangladesh's banks would be pursued during the Joint Economic Commission (JEC) meeting in Riyadh later this month.
The move, they said, is aimed at increasing an ebbing flow of foreign remittances from the Middle-Eastern nation through legal channels as well as mobilizing funds from the expatriate Bangladeshi business community over there.
Saudi Arabia is traditionally the biggest source of foreign remittance for Bangladesh. Almost 3.4 million Bangladeshis have found employment in the Gulf kingdom in last three decades.
Last year alone, Bangladeshi expatriates in Saudi Arabia sent around US$ 2.325 billion in remittance to the country, official figures show. The amount is around 17 per cent of the total overseas remittances coming into the country.
It has been observed, however, that the money flow from the Gulf country has become quite erratic lately. In the year 2016, the inflow of remittance from Saudi Arabia fell 11 percent, year on year, to US$1.36 billion.
More notably, Bangladesh is facing a slump in the overall inflow of remittances in recent years, raising some worry over the country's foreign-currency reserves.
The inward remittances, which picked to a high of US$ 15.32 billion in 2015, dropped drastically to US$ 13.61 billion in 2016. The receipts plummeted further to US$ 13.53 billion in 2017.
The downturn has often been blamed on growing use of illegal channels for sending home money by the expatriates, because of some reported disincentives.
In this context, the Saudi government agreed to allow Bangladeshi banks to open branches there during the visit of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina in June 2016.
Consequently, Bangladesh Bank gave approval to three local banks-- Janata Bank, Social Islami Bank Limited and Standard Bank--to establish branches in Saudi Arabia.
The aforementioned banks are currently also working to receive approval from the Saudi central bank--Saudi Arabian Monetary Authority (SAMA).
However, talking to the officials concerned, it was found that not much progress had been made in this regard due to a rigorous process involved in obtaining formal approval from SAMA.
"In this context, we would request the Saudi government to expedite the process and give necessary green light," Additional Secretary of the Economic Relations Division Mohammad Shamsul Alam told the FE.
"Setting up our own bank branches would ease the process of sending remittance for the Saudi-based overseas workers," Mr Alam said.
"It would also ease the process of getting loans from Bangladeshi business community living in Saudi Arabia," he added.
A high-level delegation from Bangladesh led by ERD Secretary Kazi Shofiqul Azam would take part in the two-day JEC meeting scheduled for March 14-15.
Apart from the opening of bank branches, the Bangladesh delegation to the talks would also push for easing the conditions on Iqama or residency permit for Bangladeshi workers.
"Under the current provision, Bangladeshi workers can hardly change their jobs or look for new employment if they become jobless," said Shamsul Alam, who heads the Middle-East wing in the ERD.
"We would ask the Saudi authority to ease the provisions of Iqama so that it permits our workers to switch their jobs or get new jobs in case of layoff," he added.
The sources also informed that the issue of Hajj flight is also likely to be raised during the Riyadh meeting.
"Currently, all the Saudi-bound Hajj flights from Bangladesh return empty as they cannot take any passengers on their return flight," an official concerned said.
"We would discuss this issue with the Saudi authority so that these return flights can carry Dhaka-bound commercial passengers on their return flights," he added.
A total of 127,198 Bangladeshis performed Hajj in Saudi Arabia in 2017, the highest number for any country after Indonesia, Pakistan and India.