A brick pathway leads to a lavish house located in the remote Banuai village of Sonaimuri upazila in Noakhali.
Tiled roof, gardens along the pathway that meets the porch, large glass windows, protruded balconies on each floor – one can easily confuse the four-storey building for a modern castle made of red bricks.
The house belongs to Tofayel Ahmed, who emigrated to Saudi Arabia around 25 years ago. Such luxurious buildings are not a rare sight in Noakhali as most expatriates from the district have invested primarily in real estate.
More than 3 lakh people from nine upazilas of Noakhali have emigrated to 165 countries across the globe in search of a better life.
These expatriates send home remittances amounting to at least Tk3,000 crore every year, which are spent on building luxurious houses, buying plots and flats and providing for their families in Bangladesh.
Speaking to The Business Standard, a number of remitters said they can create employment and generate more profit by investing in the industrial sector. They are interested in investing their hard earned money in developing domestic industries, but only if they find a suitable environment for it.
A report by the Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics reveals that 39 percent of the remittance is spent on food for their families, another 39 percent is spent on education, transport, clothing and other expenditures.
Of the remaining 22 percent, 5 percent is spent on buying luxury products such as televisions, refrigerators and mobile phones, and 17 percent is spent on buying plots or flats.
Many expatriates have built luxurious homes by spending crores of taka in Noakhali's remote villages, especially in Amishapara, Dewti, Nowakhola and Rampur. As the owners live abroad, caretakers or watchmen look after their properties.
The expatriates also spend money on buying plots or flats.
Fakhrul Islam, director of Morshed Alam Complex, among the biggest shopping malls and residential complexes in the district's commercial hub Chowmuhani Bazar, said, "Most of our buyers live abroad.
"Expatriates are now the targeted buyers of mega shopping malls, flats and plots in the district."
Many expatriates are of course seeking a change, but they lack the confidence to invest in the industrial sector.
Sonaimuri upazila's Shah Alam, who currently lives and works in the United Kingdom, said, "In setting up factories, expatriates face harassment when bribes are demanded from them by various organisations responsible for issuing the necessary clearance.
"Because they suffer harassment in different government and non-government offices, they are reluctant to spend their remittance in any productive sector.
Masudur Rahman, hailing from Mirwarishpur village of Begumganj upazila, said, "Expatriates do not want to invest their money in the productive sector due to reasons such as dishonest behavior, administrative harassment, corruption and fraudulent attitudes among some people."
"Doing business in Bangladesh is difficult because of the middlemen. Renting out flats or shops is much safer than investing in businesses," said Gias Uddin, who emigrated from the district's Companyganj upazila to the United States.
Ibrahim Khalil Manik of Chatkhil upazila's Noakhola village has been living and working in the United States for 25 years.
He told The Business Standard, "I have no objection to investing all my earnings in Bangladesh, but only if my investment remains secure. I have built a couple of multistoried buildings and markets in my area and bought shops, plots and flats.
"Compared to my earlier investments, the cost of setting up factories is not much."
Abu Salek, director at the Noakhali Employment and Manpower Office, said, "More than 3.18 lakh people from Noakhali have moved to different countries in the nearly 14 years from 2005. We do not have the statistics for the years prior to 2005."
In total, he said, around 5.5 lakh people have emigrated from the district.
The government has recently announced a 2 percent incentive on remittance, which has helped increase the remittance inflow in Noakhali.
During the first 10 months of this year, Sonali Bank received Tk276.02 crore at its 28 branches in the district, compared to Tk145 crore in the previous year. Meanwhile, Janata Bank received Tk280 crore during the same period at its 15 branches, compared to Tk174 crore in 2018.
Islami Bank received the highest amount of remittance, Tk2,601.40 crore. The figure was Tk2757.20 crore last year.