Amid concerns about low remittance inflows in recent months, Bangladesh's labour export figure surged to 1,38,675 this August – the highest in a month since Bangladesh officially commenced manpower export in 1976, promising a boost in the country's depleting foreign reserves.
The increase is primarily due to the pre-approved quota for Bangladeshi workers in Malaysia, where 46,105 workers were recruited last month, according to the Bureau of Manpower, Employment and Training (BMET).
Labour recruiters, however, expressed scepticism regarding the sustainability of the current flow of workers travelling abroad in the upcoming months, given that Malaysia has not granted any new quotas.
Furthermore, the usual recruitment process in Saudi Arabia has been hindered due to delays on the Bangladeshi side, according to their observation.
Why contrasting figures
Meanwhile, in August, Bangladesh saw an 18.78% drop in inbound remittances compared to the previous month, hitting a six-month low, raising concerns about the country's diminishing foreign currency reserves.
The year-on-year comparison for August also reveals a concerning 21.57% decrease in inward remittances.
Bankers and experts attributed the decline to the higher exchange rate of the local currency against the US dollar in the open market, which is attracting expatriates towards informal cross-border money-transfer channels like "hundi".
Ali Haider Chowdhury, secretary general of the Bangladesh Association of International Recruiting Agencies (Baira), told The Business Standard, "Many expatriates resort to informal channels because they receive less money when using banking channels. Besides, they lose valuable working hours going to banks."
Ali Haider also voiced his concerns regarding the sustainability of the current foreign employment trend, stating, "Those presently going to Malaysia already had a prior-approved quota, and Malaysia has not yet granted a new quota for Bangladeshi migrant workers."
The Baira secretary general mentioned that Saudi employers are turning to neighbouring countries like Nepal and India to fulfil their foreign worker needs due to the lengthy process of obtaining workers from Bangladesh, which takes over three months.
Malaysia signed an agreement with Bangladesh on 19 December 2021 to reopen its labour market for Bangladeshi workers after a hiatus of 3.5 years.
As of the latest update, Malaysia's labour department has approved the hiring of 4.57 lakh new Bangladeshi workers, with around 3 lakh workers already in Malaysia working in various sectors.
These sectors are manufacturing, construction, services, plantation, agriculture, mining, and household service. The remaining 1.27 lakh workers are in the process of travelling to the Southeast Asian country.
The Bangladesh High Commission in Kuala Lumpur hopes that if this trend continues, Malaysia will employ around five lakh new Bangladeshi workers within the next 2-3 years.
Overseas job trend
Bangladesh sent 8.82 lakh workers this year till August. Among them, Saudi Arabia is the top destination (35%) followed by Malaysia (30%), Oman (11%), UAE (8%), Singapore (4%), Kuwait (3%) and Qatar (3%).
Most of the foreign workers in the Middle Eastern countries are employed as construction workers, cleaners and housemaids. These countries also employ some semi-skilled workers like drivers, electricians, and plumbers.
Besides, Italy has already hired more than 13,000 workers, the UK around 5,000 and South Korea around 4,000.
However, Bangladesh is still considered as the source of less-skilled workers in the global market.
According to a report from the Refugee and Migratory Movement Research Unit, the number of skilled workers who travelled to other countries decreased in 2022 compared to the previous year.
In 2021, the number of skilled workers was 21.33% of the country's total labour migration, which came down to 17.76% in 2022, it said.
However, there was no significant change in the number of semi-skilled workers, which was 3.26% in 2022 and 3.28% in 2021.
The migration of Bangladeshi workers that had come to a complete halt in 2020 owing to pandemic-led restrictions started turning around in August 2021.
The upward trend has been continuing since then, taking the labour migration to a near pre-pandemic level.
Before the pandemic, Bangladesh used to send abroad an average of 60,000-70,000 workers every month.
Bangladesh sent a record 11.35 lakh workers abroad last year.