Bangladesh plans to explore alternative and diversified overseas labour markets to boost the sector as some traditional destinations are getting saturated.
The Ministry of Expatriates’ Welfare and Overseas Employment has already formed five delegations for visit to at least 17 countries in Europe, Australia, East Asia and Africa to search for employment opportunities, officials say.
"We have initiated the aggressive plan because quotas for our workers in some Middle Eastern countries are reaching the end," Expatriates’ Welfare Secretary Dr Zafar Ahmed Khan told The Daily Star recently.
He said the ministry has assigned tasks to the delegates, who are doing necessary market analysis, consulting the Bangladesh missions in the countries concerned and will visit them in a month or two.
The countries listed as potential labour destinations include Japan, China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Italy, Belgium, Germany, Spain, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Romania, Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia and Poland.
The initiative comes when both the overseas job and growth of inward remittance from the Bangladeshi expatriates witnessed a decline. Currently, seven million Bangladeshi expats send home over $10 billion annually helping the country’s balance of payment.
However, in 2009 foreign jobs for Bangladeshis declined to 4.75 lakh, which was 8.75 lakh in 2008 and 8.32 lakh in 2007. Though the decline was reasoned by global economic recession, its trend continued till now when the recession is approaching end.
Up to July 29 this year, only 231,171 workers joined overseas jobs with the experts saying that the total number by this year-end would be around 4 lakh.
Meanwhile, remittance growth last fiscal year was only 13 percent against the 22 percent in 2008-09. Last year the remittance inflow was $10.97 billion, up from $9.69 billion in 2008-09.
In three previous fiscal years, the growth of remittance ranged from 24 percent to 32 percent. Experts say the decline of remittance growth last fiscal was mainly caused by decrease in flow of jobs abroad.
Though the job decline was substantiated by economic recession, businesses say irregularities in the recruitment process also caused the downtrend.
For example, a recruiting agent says Kuwait, home to 4 lakh Bangladeshi workers, stopped hiring them late 2006 citing illegal activities in recruitment business.
Malaysia in March last year imposed freeze on Bangladeshi workers citing economic recession, while Saudi Arabia, the largest labour market hosting around 20 lakh Bangladeshis, significantly reduced the number.
Expatriates’ welfare ministry Joint Secretary Begum Shamsunnahar said it is learned unofficially Saudi Arabia will not allow more than 20 percent Bangladeshis in any company.
Zafar Ahmed Khan said Southeast Asia and the Middle East are traditional markets and follow-up efforts will be there to maintain these, or to recover those having freeze on Bangladeshi workers.
"But we are searching for new destinations as a supplementary, as we have surplus workforce," he said. Some of these countries already hired some workers from Bangladesh, while others showed their interests.
It is imperative that Bangladesh strengthens links with these countries and improve Bangladeshis’ skills to capture job markets, he said.
Asked if Bangladeshis have the skills as required by these countries, Khan said those seeking overseas jobs have certain skills and there are training centres for them. If required, advanced and varied trainings will be provided, he added.
Alongside searching markets, the government is also taking measures to curb malpractices and indiscipline in the sector, said Begum Shamsunnahar.