Md Roni left Bangladesh for Qatar on a work visa in 2016 when he was 27, and joined a construction firm for a monthly salary of Tk18,000. He spent Tk2.5 lakh to move abroad, and he did not have any training.
Almost five years have passed, but the fortune Rony sought in Qatar still eludes him. He is now working in Doha as a construction worker with a monthly salary of only Tk24,000, he said over the phone.
Another migrant, Anwar Hossain – a 50-year-old man – makes nearly Tk45,000 as a driver in Al Qassim province of Saudi Arabia. The stark difference between these two men's incomes is a good indication that more skills lead to more wages.
At least 47% of Bangladeshi migrant workers are considered unskilled, and these expats make far less money than the skilled ones, making Bangladesh's per-worker remittance one of the lowest.
Bangladesh ranks 6th among migrant origin countries, but is 9th among the top 10 remittance receiving nations, meaning that sending more workers abroad, Bangladesh earns less in remittance. Major competitors in the overseas job market – including Sri Lanka, Pakistan and the Philippines – gain much from the skilled workforce they send abroad, data from multiple sources show.
Latest Data from the International Labour Organisation (ILO), International Organisation for Migration (IOM) and respective governments further show that among the Bangladeshi migrants, only 36% are skilled, while 47% are skilled from Sri Lanka, 43% from Pakistan and 45% from Philippines.
Nepal, who has 12.58% skilled workers in destination countries, is becoming an emerging competitor to Bangladesh.
The average monthly remittance sent by a Bangladeshi expat is $203.33 (Tk17,236), while it is $564.1 for a Filipino worker, which is more than double compared to a Bangladeshi, IOM data says.
Moreover, the monthly average income of a Pakistani expat is $275.74 and $395.71 for an Indian and $532.71 Chinese citizen.
Due to Bangladeshi workers moving abroad unskilled, the country is falling behind other remittance receivers such as India, Pakistan, Philippines, Egypt and China, experts told The Business Standard.
They added that if Bangladesh makes a serious effort to increase the number of trained migrant workers, the flow of remittance will be more sustainable and the country will be able to overtake its nearest competitors.
According to the World Bank, India, China, Mexico, the Philippines, France, Egypt, Nigeria, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Vietnam were the top ten remittance receivers in 2019.
Commenting on the issue, Policy Research Institute of Bangladesh's Executive Director Ahsan H Mansur said, "We have to prioritise sending people abroad who are trained to work in healthcare, service sector, welding and fabrication, quality control, refrigeration and air-conditioning, plumbing and pipe-fitting, graphics design and electrical work.
"We send housemaids in the Middle East but they are not trained enough. A Middle Eastern newspaper reported that Saudi employers are willing to pay 2,700 Reals to a Filipino housemaid, and the same employers will not pay more than 600 Reals to a Bangladeshi maid."
He pointed out learning the required languages such as Arabic and English should be considered a mandatory skill for migrants. "Bangladeshi housemaids should go abroad after receiving the necessary training and passing at least the SSC or its equivalent examination."
Criticising our education system, Refugee and Migratory Movement Research Unit's (RMMRU) Founding Chair Dr Tasneem Siddiqui said, "We have to offer a choice of technical training to all students till the SSC level, and make this education compulsory.
"As our technical education system is separate from general education, only a handful of students ever get technical training. A major portion of our migrant workers are untrained and unskilled, and employers from destination countries are taking advantage of these people."
"We are among the top remittance receiving countries, only because we have around 1.2 crore people living and working abroad. If we can get these people trained, we will surely speed past our competitors."
She mentioned that the demand for healthcare professionals will increase in post-Covid era.
A recent survey conducted by the Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics (BBS) on labour migration cost shows that it takes more than 17.6 months on average for a Bangladeshi migrant worker to recoup the migration cost.
Migrants have to spend an average of Tk4.17 lakh for getting jobs overseas. The costs can be recouped even faster if the migrants take adequate training before moving abroad, experts opined.
More skills lead to more wages
Saudi Arabia is the largest migrant destination for Bangladeshis and around 22 lakh are currently working there, according to an unofficial estimate.
According to the BBS and ILO data, around 90% of Saudi bound Bangladeshi migrants are unskilled, and the monthly income of an expat there is around Tk22,140. However, around 86% of the Malaysia bound workers are unskilled, and they make at least Tk23,896 monthly.
This comparison clearly indicates that skilled migrant workers earn more, which in turn positively impacts the remittance inflow too. Similar comparisons can also be made with Qatar and Singapore.
Govt steps for training migrants
There are 71 technical training centres (TTCs) operating under the BMET, however, thousands of workers are going abroad without any training.
Responding to a query, BMET's Director General Md Shamsul Alam said, "We are providing training on 55 sectors in our TTCs. But the existing capacity is not enough to accommodate the large number migrant aspirants.
"We can accommodate 40-50 students per batch, but around 7 lakh Bangladeshis go abroad each year. We have a plan to build TTCs in every upazila. Forty more centres are under construction. Besides, we have sent a proposal to the planning minister for building 100 more centres."
He further pointed out that most people are not aware of the training centres, and therefore, they go abroad without any training.