The government is going to make it mandatory for Indian and Pakistani citizens to register with the immigration authorities upon their entry into Bangladesh in an effort to stop overstay of visas and illegal employment, if any, in the country.
Indian or Pakistani citizens arriving with a visa of 90 days or more must submit their details to the immigration authorities at airports or land ports within 14 days of entry to Bangladesh.
However, citizens of other countries will be exempted from this requirement.
The government has also increased visa categories in the newly issued circulars. In addition, it is also going to bring changes in the terms and conditions on the tenure and renewal of different categories of visas.
The Security Services Division of the home ministry has imposed the new conditions – which will take effect from January 1, 2021 – through three circulars issued on categories, duration and conditions of Bangladeshi visa for foreign nationals.
It has also sought opinions on this move from Bangladesh passport and visa wings abroad by September 20.
A large number of foreign nationals engaged in Bangladesh's apparel, textile, buying house, telecommunication, and information technology are from India and Pakistan. They mainly work in mid-level management in those sectors.
However, there are allegations that many of them come to Bangladesh with different visas, including tourist visas, and work illegally. They prefer receiving salaries in cash and sending remittances to their countries through hundi.
The government is now clamping down on these illegal acts by bringing Indian and Pakistani citizens under registration and imposing fines on companies who employ them illegally.
One-year multiple visas for businesspeople
The "B" category visa tenure for foreigners who come to explore various opportunities, import manpower, participate in trade fairs, check the quality of Bangladeshi products or meet with suppliers, will be extended to one year with multiple entries. At present, they are given a six-month visa.
The practice of issuing one-year visas with multiple entry facilities to foreign investors in Bangladesh and renewing them for a period of five years is still in force.
They are now given the "No Visa Required (NVR)" benefit if they make a fresh investment of at least $5 million in heavy industries or continue investments. Foreign entrepreneurs will get this benefit from 2021.
The new circular states, "The NVR facility will be available for the investment of at least $5 million upon certification from the Bangladesh Bank or Bangladesh Investment Development Authority or Bangladesh Economic Zones Authority or Bangladesh Export Processing Zones Authority or Bangladesh Hi-Tech Park Authority and other applicable authorities in Bangladesh."
Foreigners involved in various development projects in Bangladesh are now getting a three-month E1 visa (employment visa). The new circular will fix their visa duration as per the recommendation from the ministries concerned with the projects.
The validity of E2 visa for foreigners who come to work in Bangladesh will be extended to six months from the existing three months.
However, the home ministry is keeping the visa validity of foreigners coming for work, such as in machinery and software installation, maintenance, project inspection, unchanged at six months as before.
Visa period for foreign celebrities coming to Bangladesh under contracts to perform in professional sports and cultural events will be reduced to 30 days from the existing six months. Their visas will be renewed as per their agreements with the authorities concerned.
Mandatory registration for Indians, Pakistanis
Mohammad Azharul Haque, additional secretary (security and immigration) at the Security Services Division, told The Business Standard that there are long-standing allegations that some Indian and Pakistani nationals are working in Bangladesh without legal permissions.
"That is why registration with the immigration authorities has been made mandatory for citizens coming from India and Pakistan with visas of 90 days or more. This will make it possible to track their length of stay in the country and trace their whereabouts."
He pointed out, "We often make [visa related] reciprocal decisions about citizens of a particular country," explaining that Bangladeshis have to register with the immigration authorities in India.
Bangladesh is taking similar action for Indians, he said.
Asked whether this condition would stop illegal employment of Indian and Pakistani nationals in Bangladesh, the additional secretary said, "Any organisation employing foreigners without employment visas and work permits will be penalised."
"We hope this move will reduce the number of illegal foreign workers in Bangladesh."
Welcoming the government's initiative, Shafiul Islam Mohiuddin, former president at the Federation of Bangladesh Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FBCCI), told The Business Standard that travellers have to comply with immigration laws of host countries. Many foreign nationals come to Bangladesh on visit or tourist visas and work here but no initiative has been taken so far to identify and stop them from working illegally in the country.
"Most foreign workers are employed in the country's textiles and readymade garment factories. Many others are also working in buying houses. At one time, the number of Koreans was the highest in the country. Now, Indians have outnumbered them. There are also many Pakistani and Chinese citizens working here," he added.
Many are working on visit or tourist visas without any work permit. In many cases, they are fined if they overstay. It is essential to identify them and bring them under the income tax law, he also said.
Supporting the slapping of penalties, including fines on companies that employ foreign workers illegally, the former FBCCI president said industry owners should encourage foreign workers to comply with the country's immigration law and the income tax law.
No accurate numbers of illegally working foreigners
No government agency has accurate data on how many foreigners are currently working in Bangladesh.
According to a report published by the Transparency International Bangladesh (TIB) in February, some 2.50 lakh foreign nationals are working in the country. Of them, 90,000 are legally employed.
A report, published by the Centre for Policy Dialogue in 2015 said Bangladesh has become the third-largest remittance source of India, with around $3.7 billion sent in 2013. And a portal of professionals, Silicon India, has predicted that remittance from Bangladesh to India would continue to increase in the coming years.
Actions will be taken against those foreigners working in Bangladesh on a tourist visa. "Employment with such visas in Bangladesh is prohibited, an exception of which may lead to cancellation of visa and taking legal action," according to the new circular.
About appointing foreign workers illegally in any organisation, the visa circular said, "If any foreign national arriving with the objective of employment or investment or business or education purpose, conceals any information or violates any condition of the visa, the appointing or recommending or sponsoring organisation of that person will be fined Tk20,000 per illegal foreign worker for the first time and Tk1 lakh for similar and any subsequent violation."