Bangladeshi migrant workers have helped this country in numerous ways and continue to do so in recent days as well. According to RMMRU (Refugee and Migratory Movement Research Unit) figures, migrant workers have sent back home nearly $19.69 billion from January to November 2020 during the Covid-19 pandemic. Though this has delighted many, it also has some underlying implications.
First, the fact that new workers were not permitted to migrate and that many businesses went bankrupt in developed nations caused the World Bank to predict a 25 percent reduction in Bangladesh's remittance this year. Yet, surprisingly the figure this year eclipsed that of last year by 17 percent.
This indicates unfair practices in remittance transfer businesses that had been going through "hundi operators" in the past. The government must take this opportunity to identify these illegal transactions and incentivise legal ones. Should the government be able to achieve this, remittance might even rise as much as 30 percent more than the current figures.
Second, migrant workers who had sent money home from their savings might have also contributed to the rise in remittance figure this year. The situation could turn worse for them in the coming days as one joint study conducted by BCSM (Bangladesh Civil Society for Migrants) and RMMRU last June have concluded that 61 percent of families had already stopped receiving any money from abroad.
This coupled with the fact that new workers cannot migrate due to the pandemic may very well result in a dip in Bangladesh's remittance earnings in 2021.
Bangladesh sent around 700,000 migrants in 2019 which was projected to be overshadowed by this year's migration figures. Yet, migration came to a screeching halt back in March due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Though 280,000 migrants have been able to go abroad this year to work, they were not new workers meaning only migrants who already had visas were able to return to their workplaces.
Therefore, even after a sizable number of migrants going back abroad, Bangladesh should be prepared for a remittance fall next year. Apart from all these, the failure to implement international human rights obligations should also be addressed while discussing issues regarding global migration.
Despite urging from the UN Secretary-General António Guterres to help 70 million migrants working around the globe, migrant workers have endured incredible hardships during the pandemic.
International human rights organisations which have championed the clauses of instruments such as the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration (GCM) and Universal Declaration of Human Rights for years, have failed to protect the migrant workers among which Bangladeshis are no exception.
States all over the globe, even the wealthy European nations, failed to come to the migrants' aid when they needed help. Even states like Italy whose agricultural industry would come to a grinding halt if not for the migrant workers had not been able to aid the starving workers. It is a shame that money had to be channeled from Bangladesh to feed the migrant workers who are essential for Italy's economic growth in many sectors.
International instruments and policies must be closely reviewed after this humongous disaster. International organisations should figure out the weaknesses in the implementation mechanisms and work to eradicate them as soon as possible.
Bangladesh must also look forward in terms of availability of good jobs for the migrants in the future. Like the developed nations in the West as the UK, the US and others, vocational education must be added to the traditional curriculum in order to create a skilled workforce.
Since opportunities for skilled workers are abundant, Bangladeshis would be able to find well-paying jobs abroad if they choose to migrate. Poland, Romania and many other nations provide lucrative opportunities for skilled migrant workers which could be availed by Bangladeshis through effective vocational and technical education.
Therefore, the government must take initiatives to introduce an educational system which would be effective in creating skilled workers. The private sector, which plays a significant role in developed nations, must also look at the bigger picture and come forward to help the government in creating an efficient workforce through vigorous training and awareness programs.
There are a few more important factors that are needed to be taken into account when we talk about the future of migration and remittance. Considering the current condition which points at a potential decline of remittance in 2021, the government must immediately take steps to incentivize migrant workers in order to stop a fall in remittance.
A rise in remittance incentive rate (the rate set by Bangladesh Bank) from 2 to 3 percent has long been proposed. Yet, it is not implemented. Since the government's incentive budget remains largely unused (generally 25 percent of incentive budget is utilised), implementation should not be a problem now.
Moreover, profitable investment opportunities for the migrant workers should be another positive step towards ensuring a better flow of remittance. Since nobody likes to put money in a market that is unstable and easily manipulated, new investors have been scarce in Bangladesh. But if people are convinced of the market's stability, they will invest more and help the nation's economy in the process.
In the end, it should be ensured that the migrant workers – whose tireless struggles have rejuvenated this nation – are treated everywhere in a humane and dignified way. While the raging pandemic's economic consequences might be seen in 2021 in form of a fall in our remittance figure, careful considerations and proper steps can help our migrants as well as the economy to combat it.
The author is a professor at the University of Dhaka