Abdul Ahad, an expatriate living in the USA and hailing from Nabiganj, Habiganj, built a house in Sylhet city five years ago at a cost of several crores of taka. Recently, he sold the house for only Tk1.7 crore.
Ustar Mia, another expatriate from Sylhet, has a restaurant business in the UK. He also invested in a private hospital in Sylhet city. However, he sold his share in the hospital recently as his business in London has been in economic turmoil.
Many other expats in Sylhet are also selling their assets and withdrawing their investment from the country despite different initiatives and incentives from the Sylhet Chamber of Commerce and other business organisations to attract investment.
Elias Mia Matin, a UK expatriate who has come to the country to sell his properties, told The Business Standard, "Business conditions in the UK are not good. Moreover, I have no one for the maintenance of my properties here. I am also afraid that my properties may be illegally occupied. That's why I want to sell them."
According to people concerned, the trend has been having a negative impact on the economy and living standards in Sylhet. It has also brought down land prices in the city and surrounding areas.
They have said that expatriates have lost interest in investing in the country due to frequent incidents of fraudulent activities, bureaucratic complications in investment, high risk in business in Bangladesh, economic crisis in the host countries, lack of interest of the new generation of expatriates, etc.
Abdul Mushabnir, welfare officer of Sylhet Overseas Center, an organisation that provides various services to expatriates, said, "Many expatriates often come to us to seek help in selling their properties in Sylhet. Most of them say that they are not profiting from their businesses in the country. Many complain of being cheated by their relatives. Moreover, the third-generation expatriates are not interested in Bangladesh."
According to the Sylhet Chamber of Commerce, currently around 500,000 Bangladeshis are living in the UK, with 90% of them from Sylhet. About 16% of households in Sylhet division depend on expatriate money.
People concerned said there was a trend of building housing projects in Sylhet about a decade ago. Hundreds of housing projects were developed in the division within two-three years, with most of the investments coming from the expats.
However, most of the projects did not see any profit and many of them have already had their activities come to a stop. There are also complaints of embezzlement of money from many expatriates in the name of these projects.
The countries where most of the expatriates from Sylhet live have been facing an economic crisis. The Covid-19 pandemic has made the situation worse and pushed expats into selling their properties in the country.
Delwar Hossain, managing director of Arc Real Estate, a Sylhet-based real estate company, said, "Many expatriates are now withdrawing their investments from the country. Expatriates who have invested in various companies are selling their shares."
He said, "An expatriate living in the UK had built a house on the outskirts of the city at a cost of around Tk3 crore to stay in the country on holidays. But his children are not interested in coming to the country. So he sold the house after finishing the construction work under pressure from his children. Many expatriates are selling such properties."
Shafiul Alam Chowdhury, former president of Sylhet Apartment and Real Estate Owners Group, said thousands of crores of taka have been invested in the housing sector in Sylhet and about 70% of the investment has come from the expatriates.
"Expats were also the main buyers of plots and flats in Sylhet. But they are no longer buying flats or land. As a result, there is an extreme recession in the housing sector in Sylhet," he said.
Expatriate Fahim Ahmad Chowdhury has benefited by investing in the country. He is currently Deputy Managing Director of Baraka Power. Fahim said many expatriates fail to make any profit by investing in different sectors. Moreover, many of them do not even get back half of the investment.
"Besides, the new generation of expatriates has a negative perception about Bangladesh. We have no way to reach them to change their views," he said.
Fahim added, "The new generation of expatriates is far ahead in terms of money, talent and skills. We have to make them interested in and about the country."
Abu Taher Shoeb, president of Sylhet Chamber of Commerce, said a large number of expatriates used to come to the country during the winter. But the number has been declining day by day.
Shoeb said, "Earlier, the buyers of land in Sylhet were mainly expatriates. But they are no longer buying land. On the contrary, they are selling their land. As a result, land prices in Sylhet have dropped dramatically in the last decade."
He added that the chamber is working to attract expatriates to invest in the country. "There is potential for investment in the tourism and IT sectors in Sylhet. We have started a campaign on these possibilities. A document on this has already been prepared by experts. We will go to the expatriate entrepreneurs with this. I hope there will be some response."
Julia Jasmine Mili, director of the Investment Development Board, Sylhet office, told The Business Standard, "Sylhet has a large number of expatriates. They have a huge amount of money in the banks. Besides, investment in several sectors in Sylhet could be very profitable. The Board of Investment is ready to provide all kinds of services to them."