Mohiuddin from Cumilla paid Tk6.5 lakh in migration costs to a recruiting agency and went to Saudi Arabia in mid-2015.
He now works as a salesman in a grocery shop in the Al-Qassim province of Saudi Arabia.
Mohiuddin told The Business Standard, "I was not paid properly in the first two years of my employment. I have been getting Tk35,000 in salary per month for the past two and a half years. But I have not yet been able to recoup the amount I spent to get my overseas job."
A recent survey conducted by the Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics (BBS) on labour migration costs paints an identical picture.
It takes more than 17.6 months on average for Bangladeshi labour migrants to recover the money they spend on their employment in foreign countries. The cost recovery time even goes up to 19 months or more, on average, for male workers; while it takes 5.6 months for their female counterparts, according to the BBS report.
Based on information from migrant workers between 2015 and 2018, the BBS prepared the report, mostly about employment costs and monthly incomes.
According to the BBS survey, both male and female migrants have to spend an average of Tk4.17 lakh for overseas jobs. However, the average employment cost of male migrants is four times higher than that of female migrants.
The male workers spend Tk4.71 lakh on average while their female counterparts' recruitment cost is Tk1 lakh.
During 2015-2018, most female workers were employed as domestic workers. That is why the cost was much lower; on some occasions, they did not have to spend money to go abroad as housemaids.
The BBS survey also has found that migrants have to spend much more than the government-fixed cost for going to different countries. They spent 2.6 times the amount for Saudi Arabia, 2.5 times for Malaysia and 2.2 times for Singapore.
However, migrant workers claim that they have to spend a lot more to go to those countries.
Labour migration to Singapore costs the most – Tk5.74 lakh – and it takes 15.1 months to recover the employment cost, the report said.
In 2017, the government set the cost of migration to Singapore at Tk2.62 lakh. However, the average income of Bangladeshi migrants in the country is also higher than in other countries, which is Tk38,000 per month.
Syed Saiful Haque, chairman, WARBE Development Foundation, said, "There is no opportunity to charge more than Tk1 lakh in migration cost as per all international standards. Recruiting agencies buy visas and sell them at higher prices."
He thinks that there is a weakness on the government's part in holding the agencies accountable for charging so much.
When contacted, Shamim Ahmed Chowdhury Noman, secretary general at Bangladesh International Recruiting Agencies (Baira), said, "It is true that the migration cost in Bangladesh is higher than in many other countries in the world. But it is not Tk4.5 lakh on average as shown by the BBS report. The cost goes up a bit as the recruiting agencies need to pay middlemen."
"Currently, it costs a maximum of Tk2-2.5 lakh to go to Saudi Arabia," he added.
Criticising the fixing of migration costs, he said, "It would be acceptable if the costs were reviewed every year. Now, it is not possible to go with the costs set in 2017."
According to the BBS survey, the cost of recruiting unskilled workers is higher than that of skilled workers, and their monthly income is lower too.
A skilled worker needs 14.5 months to make Tk4.27 lakh back that the workers spends on his or her overseas job; whereas the cost recovery time for an unskilled worker is 20.2 months. Unskilled workers need to spend Tk4.77 lakh to go abroad.
The average monthly income of a skilled worker is Tk29,477, while the income of an unskilled worker is Tk23,629.
Meanwhile, it takes 7.1 months to recover the money spent on the recruitment of female domestic workers.
According to the survey report, the average monthly income of a migrant worker is Tk25,693 – Tk24,673 for men and Tk18,033 for women.
Between 2015 and 2018, the number of migrant workers was 27.3 lakh. Of them, four lakh, or 14.8%, were women and 23.3 lakh, or 85.2%, were men. Two-thirds of the migrants went abroad from rural areas during the period.
Of the total female migrants, 83.8% were employed as domestic workers, 8.7% as unskilled workers and 7.5% as skilled workers.