In November 2020, Md Shahadat Hossain, who exports manpower mainly to the Middle Eastern countries, resumed sending workers to Saudi Arabia amid the pandemic.
At present, his agency, 4-Site International Limited, has a demand for 700-800 workers from Saudi Arabia but is not getting enough applicants to fill in the jobs.
All recruiting agencies are now going through a similar crisis from a drying up of labour supply. Many people cannot now afford the higher expenses for overseas jobs because of their income erosion caused by Covid-19, while a good number of them are reluctant to fly, apprehensive of pandemic-led changes in the destination countries, industry insiders say.
"We have got demands from Saudi Arabia for cleaners, construction workers, salespersons for shopping malls and hotel staff. We have sent around 80 workers to the country after it had reopened its labour market," said Shahadat Hossain, managing director of 4-Site International.
"We have reduced immigration costs for Saudi-bound workers to Tk2-3 lakh from over Tk4 lakh, but we are still not getting enough candidates," he added.
Aminul Islam Mazid, managing partner of God Gift International – a recruiting agency that sends workers to Saudi Arabia, said, "We have sent around 250 workers as cleaners in Saudi Arabia. We are still looking for around 1,000 workers but there are few takers.
"We used to send around 300-400 workers every month before the pandemic. But we have received only 300 passports from aspirant migrants in the last four months."
Noman Chowdhury, chairman of Dahmashi Corporation – another manpower recruiting agency, said, "Many are willing to go but most cannot pay the fees."
Every year, on average, around seven lakh Bangladeshis get jobs in different countries, mostly in the Middle East.
Last year, the pandemic brought the normal trend of overseas employment to a halt, shutting it for April-June that year.
In August, the Middle East job markets reopened.
More than 2.17 lakh Bangladeshi migrants travelled to different destination countries last year, according to data from the Bangladesh Bureau of Manpower, Employment and Training (BMET).
Among them, 36,451 have been employed after the reopening of the markets from July to December.
The countries, which have reopened their labour markets for Bangladeshis, are Saudi Arabia, Oman, Qatar, Jordan, and Singapore.
Saudi Arabia is the top destination for Bangladeshi migrants where 74% of employment was generated last year. Among them, 27,729 people were employed in the country from September to December. In December 2020, the country recruited 23,362 Bangladeshis.
Oman recruited 3,673 Bangladeshis after reopening its job market.
Although the labour market in the United Arab Emirate (UAE) has remained closed since 2012, workers can find employment in the country after going there with a visit visa.
"There is an opportunity for workers from some countries to go to the UAE for three months with a visit visa. They can then convert that into a working visa and stay for a certain period according to the contract with an employer company," said Shamim Ahmed Chowdhury Noman, former secretary-general of the Bangladesh Association of International Recruiting Agencies (Baira).
"Now, I am mainly sending workers to the UAE. I have a demand for 200 workers this month for Dubai. But the response from job-seekers is not satisfactory," he added.
Airfares have doubled now, which is also discouraging the job seekers, he said.
"If ticket prices come down, migration costs will decrease too," Shamim added.
Kafil Uddin Mazumder, another recruiter, said, "The formal labour markets in Malaysia and the UAE will possibly reopen soon. That is why people are not showing interest in Saudi Arabia."
Malaysia, home to around eight lakh Bangladeshis, had suspended labour recruitment from Bangladesh in September 2018, following allegations of monopoly by a syndicate of recruiting agents and high costs of migration.
Malaysia agreed to reopen its labour market to Bangladeshi workers in October last year.
During a virtual meeting with Bangladesh's Expatriates Welfare and Overseas Employment Minister Imran Ahmad, Malaysian Human Resource Minister Datuk Seri M Saravanan gave his consent to start taking Bangladeshi workers as soon as possible.
Around 1.2 crore Bangladeshis are working in different countries of the world, according to unofficial data.
Among them, more than five million are working in the Middle Eastern countries.