Taxmen started checking payroll status of foreign workers in Bangladesh through visiting corporate taxpayers' offices, and an oil giant came first under the probe.
A taskforce team of the National Board of Revenue (NBR) Tuesday visited the US oil-and-gas company Chevron in Dhaka to crosscheck their actual number of foreign workers with the furnished data.
Earlier, the NBR had issued public notice asking all of the companies to ensure tax compliance of the foreign workers and obtain licences by October 15.
In the notice, the tax authority said the NBR taskforce will launch a drive after the deadline to find out illegal foreign workers in Bangladesh without having valid licence from the Bangladesh Investment Development Authority (BIDA).
A senior official of the taskforce said the inspection for the foreign workers got off with the status checking of the US-based international oil company (IOC) and will be expanded to service sectors including hotels and restaurants.
A seven-member team of the taskforce Tuesday went for inspecting the large-taxpayer Chevron's Bangladesh office, he said.
"It is not a surprise visit. We had informed them that a team of the taskforce would conduct field visit that day," he added.
Taxmen have been carrying out the inspection as per rules in the income-tax law, he made it clear.
"Our objective is not only revenue collection but checking illegal stay of foreign workers in different companies," he said.
Officials said the taxmen will visit some other employers of foreign workers on the basis of the information they have gathered.
Prior approval from the Bangladesh Investment Development Authority (BIDA) or former Board of Investment (BoI) is required, as per income-tax ordinance, to appoint foreign employees.
As per law, it is a punishable offence to appoint foreign nationals sans such approval.
All of the tax benefits, including tax holiday or other forms of tax exemption, enjoyed by a company will be forfeited in case of non-compliance with the law.
Taxmen can impose penalty up to Tk 0.5 million or 50 per cent of the payable tax, whichever is higher, if a company or individual appointed foreign employees without obtaining the seal of approval beforehand.
There is also provision of imprisonment up to three years for the offence.
According to taxmen, there are in Bangladesh some 14,000 foreign taxpayers holding Taxpayer Identification Number (TIN).
However, the taskforce has no idea as to how many foreign employees are working in the country but not paying tax.
As per the existing law, a foreign national needs to open tax file if he/she lives in the country for three months or 90 days a year.
They also need to furnish their tax-clearance certificates from the NBR while crossing the immigration check-posts before leaving the country.
Individual foreign workers are required to pay 30 per cent tax on their incomes. There is no tax ceiling for individual non-resident foreign taxpayers in Bangladesh.
Tax officials said the number of foreign workers is increasing fast but growth in foreign taxpayers is not consistent with their employment growth.
Motive of taxmen is not to panic the companies but to ensure tax compliance through motivation, the revenue authority said to allay any fear or confusion.