As the year-on-year migration rate has already declined by around 71% due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the increasing remittance stream may stumble in the year 2021, projects the Refugee and Migratory Movement Research Unit or RMMRU.
At a virtual press conference on "Pattern and Trends of Labour Migration 2020: Achievements and Challenges" on Tuesday, the non-governmental organisation specialising in migration issues cautiously noted that streaming remittance does not mean that migrant workers are doing well.
"As so many people could not go abroad this year, it could have a negative impact on next year's remittance flow," said RMMRU Founder Chairperson Tasneem Siddiqui.
She told the press conference that the migration rate was expected to increase by 3.52% this year if the year could end with the migration trend of March 2020.
More than 7 lakh newly recruited Bangladeshis went abroad last year, while only 1.81 lakh workers migrated in the first three months of this year, said the RMMRU chair.
According to a World Bank projection earlier, Bangladesh will witness a 25% less remittance income than that of 2019. Defying this grim forecast, the country has been enjoying resurgent flows of remittance in recent months.
According to the RMMRU report, Bangladeshis sent home $19.69 billion in remittances during the January to November period of the current calendar year.
"If the trend of remittance flow continues, remittances will increase by 17.05% as compared to last year. Thus, the prediction of the World Bank did not work for Bangladesh," said the RMMRU chair.
However, the RMMRU at the press conference detailed some reasons behind the rising trend in remittance.
According to the NGO, those who are likely to return home soon are sending their savings beforehand. Besides, Bangladeshi workers abroad have been sending more money to their families to counteract the virus fallout and natural calamities such as flooding.
The RMMRU also noted that many workers sent money for their families ahead of the last two Eids despite the fact that they were mired in trouble abroad. On top of this, government incentives for remitting money through legal channels helped increase the remittance inflow.
Referring to a joint study conducted by the Bangladesh Civil Society for Migrants (BCSM) and RMMRU last June, the press conference was told that the research found 61% of families –most of them with no alternative income sources -- were no longer receiving money from abroad.
In a recent report, entitled "Remittance resurgence a tonic but no cure for sickly emerging economies", Reuters too said the risk of mounting job losses as government support unwinds means burgeoning remittance flows to some countries, including Bangladesh, may falter in 2021.
However, Dr Tasneem Siddiqui stated that there will be a demand for odd job labourers once the Covid situation normalises. Besides, she said some new labour markets are opening up for Bangladesh, such as Romania, Croatia, Poland, China and Cambodia.
The RMMRU said 2,464 Bangladeshi workers migrated between 1 October and 19 November this year. Of them, 891 went to Oman, 813 to Saudi Arabia, 524 to Uzbekistan, 91 to Singapore, 60 to the United Arab Emirates and 24 to Albania.
In the last three months, the rate of Bangladeshi migrants returning home has almost quadrupled compared to the previous five months.
According to the RMMRU research, the returnees could not bring in an average of Tk1.75 lakh per person of their wages and other dues. Apart from government loans, the NGO emphasised the need for cash aid to the returnees.
Tasneem Siddiqui said, "At present the business climate is not conducive and not everyone has the skills to do business. So loans will not be of much help since many returnees have already been dealing with debts and have not been able to earn any income in the last seven to eight months."
The RMMRU report says the Covid-19 related death rate among Bangladeshi migrants abroad was high compared to people from other countries. According to the RMMRU, only 46% of those who were forcibly returned during the pandemic had undergone Covid tests. The rest returned without the virus test.
Illegal immigrants did not go for the tests, even though they developed symptoms, due to fears of being caught.
The RMMRU put forward a set of recommendations, including raising demands from multilateral forums for a formulation of policy guidelines for migrant workers by countries sending and receiving workers. The NGO said it is necessary to scrutinise why international instruments are not followed properly to protect the rights of migrant workers at home and in the destination countries.