Bangladeshi expatriate workers sent home $13.61 billion by official count last year against $15.32 billion a year before. Thus the remittance inflow dropped by 11.15 per cent last year despite a significant rise in overseas jobs of Bangladesh nationals, according to central bank statistics.
The World Bank prediction on the issue thus proved to be correct. Both the government and the Bangladesh Bank (BB) are now working hard to expedite the flow of inward remittances from overseas destinations this year.
Among the recent initiatives, the central bank has already relaxed policy for establishment of drawing arrangement between the overseas exchange houses and the banks operating in Bangladesh to facilitate the inflow of remittances. The amount of security deposit for drawing arrangement on the part of the banks has been reduced.
Bangladesh is also trying to boost manpower export in the coming months, with the opening of greater scope of sending more local workers to Malaysia and Saudi Arabia. These two countries have recently announced to take more workers from Bangladesh.
Saudi Arabia lifted ban on the recruitment of Bangladeshi workers recently after seven years. Currently, there are some 60,000 female domestic helps among 1.3 million Bangladeshi workers in the kingdom. Malaysia is expected to reopen its market soon as authorities of the two countries already reached an understanding on Bangladeshi job seekers to Malaysia. Bangladesh had sent over 704,078 workers abroad last year.
The government provided training to 335,836 workers during the fiscal year 2015-2016 through 62 training centres. It has also undertaken various projects to produce skilled and semi-skilled manpower aimed at getting more overseas jobs for them easily. The overseas employment sector has been declared as the 'thrust sector' with maximum stress upon further expanding job markets for the Bangladeshi job seekers abroad.
The government has also undertaken projects to establish five more institutes of marine technologies at Munshiganj, Sirajganj, Chandpur, Faridpur and Bagerhat and 30 more vocational training centres at various places aimed at turning manpower skilled and semi-skilled.
The government is also trying to explore new destinations for its manpower by reducing migration cost and providing necessary training to workers. Probashi Kalyan Bank and Karmasangsthan Bank have been set up so that the people who want to go abroad do not need to sell their land or properties.
The country requires skilled workforce which should be developed through creating skilled managers and professionals. Institutional education must match the needs of industry. Colleges and universities will have to produce skilled managers with proper education and training systems.
Technical and financial assistance and support from the International Labour Organisation (ILO) and other partners are playing a significant role in implementing the government's long-term technical and vocational education and training reform programme. This is raising the supply of skilled manpower, creating new employments to some extent.
Bangladesh now confronts the challenge of achieving Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Only increased supply of skilled manpower, creating new employment opportunities and income earnings capacity can achieve such goals.
A recent study, jointly prepared the Asian Development Bank (ADB) and the ILO, says the Bangladesh economy needs to grow at an annual rate of 8.0 per cent to absorb the existing labour force which has remained surplus for the last 15 years. However, such growth of the economy will be possible when development strategy is changed substantially and the pattern of growth is made more employment-intensive.
Some supply-side constraints are also hampering economic diversification, some of which relate to employments, technological bottlenecks, and lack of entrepreneurship and management skills. Although labour force in Bangladesh is abundant, the shortage in skilled workers remains a major constraint on manufacturing production.
Low level of quality education and weak labour productivity are the major challenges for the country's employment market. Improved infrastructure and a more diversified economy can facilitate increase in economic growth, creation of meaningful jobs, and enhancement of structural transformation as a thriving middle-income economy.
Diversification of labour markets requires well thought-out measures both at home and abroad. It demands policy coherence. Capacities need to be developed to examine the labour demands in the context of development plans and demographic changes in the labour-receiving countries.
As skilled migration leads to better protection and increases income of migrants, promoting skilled migration for decent work has to be an important policy priority for the government. Extensive homework has to be done, before exploring new overseas employment markets.
In order to address such issues, the government, recruiting agents and non-government organisations (NGOs) should work together on a strategy to ensure safe and dignified employment opportunities abroad while migrants' welfare must be guaranteed for their contribution to the economy.
The government needs to give legal support to the migrants at their destination countries and take steps for their rehabilitation while they come back home. Female migrants face hurdles, including harassment and verbal, physical and sexual abuse at workplaces. The government must take effective measures to address these challenges.
Migrants, who return home after a certain period of time, have assumedly acquired some skills. For that reason, the government and the private sector may take initiatives to ensure some employment opportunities for them at home. The government is reported to have been preparing a database of returnee migrants.
There is a need for thorough analysis and investigation as to what are the root causes of choosing risky routes by thousands of Bangladeshis who ultimately end up in mass graves abroad falling prey to the human traffickers.
There is no denying that social factors and economic insolvency are the determining factors which propel the migrants to go abroad even by illegal means. Lack of knowledge and dearth of information might be a reason which curtails their capability to bargain against the manpower agents to compel them for ensuring safe migration.
However, upgrading skills of lower-income Bangladeshis through proper training can help them find safe migration.