Bangladesh's labour migration has almost returned to normal, mainly on the back of a significant rise in new recruits in different overseas countries, those in the Middle East in particular.
In December last year, 1.31 lakh migrant workers, mostly unskilled ones, went abroad – the single month highest in Bangladesh's history.
The most labour migration happened last time was in March 2017 – a little over 1 lakh.
Industry insiders have linked the rebound of overseas employment to brighter Gulf economies buoyed by rising oil prices, normalisation of Covid situation and easing of restrictions that allowed new aspirants to go to their respective destinations.
Besides, increasing the quota for Bangladeshi migrants at all Saudi firms to 40% from 25% has contributed to this record growth, they add.
"More than 4 lakh aspirant migrants, who were stuck in the country amid the pandemic, are now going to their destinations. We are very glad that the labour migration trend is gradually reaching the pre-pandemic level," Md Shahidul Alam, director general at the Bureau of Manpower, Employment and Training (BMET), told The Business Standard.
The number will increase in the coming months as the Malaysian labour market has reopened recently after a hiatus of three years, he added.
"At present, we are mostly exporting unskilled workers, but the process to send skilled manpower, including health professionals, is underway. We are negotiating with some destination countries," he added.
Abul Bashar, former president of the Bangladesh Association of International Recruiting Agencies (Baira), said bringing aspiring migrants under vaccination has also smoothened their entry to their preferred overseas destinations.
Foreign jobs that had come to a complete halt in 2020 owing to pandemic-led restrictions started turning around in August 2021 and the upward trend continued since then, taking the labour migration to almost pre-pandemic level.
Some 6.17 lakh Bangladeshis were employed in various countries in 2021, while the number of new recruits in 2019, the pre-pandemic year, stood at more than 7 lakh. With Covid restrictions in force, overseas jobs declined to 2.17 lakh in 2020, according to the BMET.
Before the onset of the pandemic, around 60,000-65,000 Bangladeshis used to migrate every month, mostly to the Middle Eastern countries.
Saudi Arabia, the top destination for Bangladeshi migrants, generated 74% of all overseas jobs last year, followed by Oman, UAE, Singapore, Jordan and Qatar.
In December 2021, the highest number of 87,212 workers went to Saudi Arabia, while 14,926 migrated to the UAE, 14,922 to Oman, 6,536 to Singapore, 1971 to Jordan, and 1,430 to Qatar.
Shahadat Hossain, proprietor of recruiting agency 4-Site International, told TBS, "Most workers in Saudi and Oman, have been employed for cleaning and construction jobs with a monthly salary of Tk20,000-Tk27,000. In addition, some have been hired as security guards and drivers in the UAE with a monthly salary of Tk35,000-Tk40,000."
Besides, some skilled and semi-skilled workers made their entry into different countries as plumber, electrician or technician of refrigerator and air conditioner, he added.
Around 74% of the labourers who migrated in 2021 are unskilled ones, according to the Refugee and Migratory Movement Research Unit.
In 2021, the percentage of migration of semi-skilled workers showed a downward trend. The number of semi-skilled workers who went abroad last year was only around 3%, dropping from 14% in 2019. However, the migration of unskilled workers has multiplied, rising to 74% from 41% during the same period, said the migration research organisation, analysing BMET data till November last year.
Last year, 23.3% got overseas jobs as skilled workers, which was 44% in 2019.
Tasneem Siddiqui, founder chair of the Refugee and Migratory Movement Research Unit, said, "The number of labour migration last year was slightly lower than in the pre-Covid period. Still, it is not bad if we consider the ongoing pandemic."
"The Covid-19 has created migration opportunities for skilled workers in certain sectors. The declining migration of skilled workers indicates that Bangladesh has not been able to take advantage of those opportunities," she added.
Meanwhile, the finance ministry on Saturday increased the incentive on the remittance exchange rate to 2.5% from the previous 2% with an immediate effect, after remittance flow saw a 21% year-on-year fall in the July-November period of the current fiscal year.
Tasneem said the government initiative will surely increase remittance flow. She, however, recommended that incentive be increased to 4%.
Around 1.3 crore Bangladeshis have been employed abroad between 1976 and 2021, according to government data. The highest 10 lakh Bangladeshis were employed in 2017.