Employment opportunity for Bangladeshi workers has shrunk in Saudi Arabia in recent months, worsened by its slow development work and restrictions on certain jobs for foreign workers, insiders have said.
The number of outbound Bangladeshi workers to the oil-rich kingdom has more than halved in the last four months, according to data released by the state-run Bureau of Manpower Employment and Training (BMET).
Except women workers, Saudi employers are not willing to recruit Bangladeshi workers at present, sector insiders said.
In the January-April period of 2018, a total of 107,935 workers went to the kingdom whereas the number of outflow was 216,101 in the same period of 2017, the data showed.
Because of the falling oil price and political uncertainty, development work has remained slow in the kingdom, making it difficult for foreign workers to get jobs.
Besides, the Saudi authority has banned 12 categories of jobs for foreign workers, which has had a negative impact on the sector.
In the last two years, Saudi Arabia has recruited the highest number of workers among the total overseas jobs from Bangladesh. Among 1.0 million workers, some 551,308 went to the Arab country in 2017.
After the ban, Bangladeshi workers have lost their vital job sectors as they are mostly engaged in these areas, said Benjir Ahmed, president of the Bangladesh Association of International Recruiting Agencies (BAIRA), the industry lobbyist group.
He said that workers are also losing their running jobs as employers are not renewing their contracts due to the ban.
Mr Ahmed said such volatility would continue for a long time as the Saudi government was reforming its policy in many areas.
Now-a-days, Saudi employers are willing to recruit only female workers in its housekeeping sector. But the supply of women workers is not high from Bangladesh.
The Saudi government imposed a ban on 12 categories jobs for foreign workers in early January including car and motorbike showrooms, readymade clothes stores, home and office furniture stores, home appliances and kitchen utensils stores, electronics stores, watches and clocks store, optics stores etc.
Bangladeshi workers, who went on individual visas, were mostly engaged in 12 categories of jobs, the BAIRA chief said.
The Saudi government is also engaging their women workforce in different sectors like jewellery shops, fashion houses and cosmetics shops.
Many Bangladeshi workers are engaged in these sectors, he added.
Replying to a query, Mr Ahmed said Bangladesh should try to tap other markets like Qatar, Kuwait and the UAE to narrow the gap.
The Saudi Gazette recently reported that a total 466,000 foreign workers left the kingdom on exit visas in the last quarter of 2017.
Referring to the General Authority for Statistics (GaStat), the newspaper also said some 100,000 Saudi men and women entered the labour market during the same period.
During visit to Dhaka, Sarwar Alam, labour counsellor at the Bangladesh embassy in Riyadh told the FE that the workers, who are leaving on individual visas, have been facing job uncertainties.
Overseas job seekers should not enter the country without company visas at this moment, he said. "As the economy of Saudi Arabia is now slow, the workers are not getting employment like before," he added.
Nearly 90 per cent workers went to the Arab country on individual visas, said officials at the expatriates' welfare ministry. Migration experts said that the government should verify job demand carefully before it sends workers to the job destination country.
Otherwise, workers will suffer if they are to return home as migration cost is high, they said.
Workers spend between Tk 400,000 and Tk 800,000 to go to the kingdom.
Tasneem Siddiqui, founding chair at the Refugee and Migratory Movements Research Unit (RMMRU), said in the past, workers could manage to get jobs, but now-a-days, it is difficult due to economic slowdown in this Arab country.
Although the migration cost has come down in recent times, it is still much higher, she said, adding if the workers were forced to return home, they would be in trouble.
The Arab country reopened its market in August 2016 after years of ban effective since 2008. The KSA recruited the highest 204,112 workers in 2007.
Currently, about 1.5 million Bangladeshis are working in Saudi Arabia in different trades. Bangladesh receives the highest amount of remittances from the Gulf nation.