- More than 5 million Bangladeshis are now working in the Gulf States
- Saudi Arabia is the largest destination of migrants where around 25 lakh Bangladeshi are employed.
- Bangladeshi migrants sent $11.12 billion in FY22 from the Gulf States
- The total remittance was $21.03billion in FY22
Employment opportunities for Bangladeshi workers may increase in the coming days in the Gulf States as countries are in talks to introduce a Schengen-style visa in the Gulf States, labour exporters said.
The visa would allow tourists to visit all partner countries under one visa which would ultimately increase the number of international travellers in the region.
"The more tourist movement and business movement there is, the more job opportunities there will be. This will obviously benefit worker-sending countries like ours. Hopefully, it will have a positive impact on our labour market," Shamim Ahmed Chowdhury Noman, former secretary general of the Bangladesh Association of International Recruiting Agencies (Baira), told The Business Standard (TBS).
The announcement about the single visa was made by Bahrain's Minister of Tourism Fatima Al Sairafi, UAE Undersecretary Abdulla Al Saleh, and Saudi Tourism Authority (STA) CEO Fahd Hamidaddin, during the event Arabian Travel Market (ATM).
"We have a huge opportunity, the effort is in how to unify all the countries in the GCC. We had 9.9 million visitors in 2022. How? There was one key initiative that year, we started to co-promote Bahrain as a unified destination with the GCC," Al Sairafi said, adding that the opportunities are "incredible" if all GCC countries unified their efforts in promotion.
Al Sairafi added that discussions were ongoing, and there was a growing recognition that a Schengen-style visa for the Gulf region could be hugely beneficial.
Easy travel across the Gulf would increase tourism for everyone, and the visitor would be happier visiting several countries without restrictions on crossing borders.
Last year's FIFA World Cup was seen as a successful "test pilot" for cross-collaboration between the Gulf countries.
Saudi Arabia, for example, provided 60-day visas to all Hayya Card holders during the event.
The success of the World Cup has sparked discussions about similar, more permanent travel policies, which would allow tourists to move freely between countries without restrictions, the report said.
Around 28 million foreign tourists visited the Gulf States in 2021, according to Statista.
In 2021, the United Arab Emirates had the highest number of international tourists arrival in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) region, valuing to more than 12 million.
Shamim Ahmed Chowdhury Noman said, "We have restricted the movement of people through visas. The world is slowly realising that this kind of movement has a role in making the economy work."
"The more free movement there is, the more people will come and go. Restricted countries like Saudi Arabia have also started a campaign called Visit Saudi in the post-Covid period to boost the economy," he added.
Pointing out that the quality of our passports has gone down, he said, "If our workers can travel from work to any other country in the Gulf just by showing Iqama, it will facilitate movement for them. They can travel to other countries on vacation."
More than 5 million Bangladeshis are now working in the Gulf States, according to an unofficial estimate.
Among them, Saudi Arabia is the largest destination of migrants where around 25 lakh Bangladeshi are employed in various sectors.
A huge number of Bangladeshi workers are currently involved in the service sector of the Gulf States including hotels, and restaurants.
Most of them are low-paid workers like cleaners where the salary range is Tk22,000-30,000.
However, Bangladeshi migrants sent $11.12 billion in FY22 from the Gulf States, more than half of the total remittance of that year.
Baira Secretary General Ali Haider Chowdhury, TBS, "We do not yet know how much tourist movement will increase if this visa is introduced. Therefore, it is not yet possible to comment on the impact of the departure of workers from Bangladesh."
The GCC countries, which include UAE, Saudi Arabia, Oman, Kuwait, Qatar and Bahrain are all reportedly regulating visas at different paces, making visa policies "naturally tricky," according to Fahd Hamidaddin, CEO of the Saudi Tourism Authority.
However, he stressed that "collaboration is the name of the game" and that the success of each GCC country complements the other.