Problems that the migrant workers have to face both before and after their departure for countries of destinations are not myriad in number but formidable and daunting in nature. Illegal immigrants have to go through an ordeal that is more severe than the one legal migrants have to endure. But this does not make the life of legal migrants enviable. They, too, have to spend huge amounts that force them to borrow or sale family assets. The advantage that distinguishes them from the illegal migrants is the assured availability of jobs soon after their arrival in the countries of their destinations.
Officially there is a fixed ceiling on the costs for migration but it is more often violated than complied with. Migrant workers who go abroad, particularly in the Middle East, have to pay through their nose to meet the cost. Payments to brokers that verge on extortion and the exploitation of recruiting agencies make the life of migrant workers miserable even before they leave the country. Inadequate monitoring by the government compounds the problems. According to a recent report of the International Labour Organisation (ILO) captioned 'Skills for the International Labour Market: Bangladesh Country Report', a worker has to pay Tk 6,50,000 to Tk. 7,50,000 to go to Saudi Arabia. This is Tk 5,66,000 to Tk. 6,66,000 more than the ceiling fixed by the government. From the report it transpires that a worker has to spend Tk 5,55,000 to Tk 6,50,000 to go and work in Lebanon which is Tk 4,66,000 more than officially required. For Oman the migrant cost is Tk 2,20,000 to Tk. 2,50,000 which is Tk 1,36,000 to Tk 1,66,000 in excess of the ceiling. To go to Malaysia for employment the migrant workers have to pay Tk 2,50,000 to Tk 3,00,000 which exceeds the official ceiling by Tk 1,60,000 to Tk 2,60,000. The list can be lengthened by citing examples of extortion and profiteering by recruiting agencies and brokers. Sometimes, the concerned government agencies are also complicit, it is reported.
Even the embassies of some Middle Eastern countries charge visa fees at a very high rate adding to the costs of migrant workers. Even Malaysia is not exempt from this, it is mentioned. This is a matter that has to be sorted out at the government level. According to the organisation of recruiting agencies, the government should fix a ceiling for visas and enforce it through close monitoring. The government had fixed the ceiling for visa fees earlier which has become out of date. The ceiling should be revised and fixed again taking into account the changes that have occurred. The recruiting agencies should be made to comply with it under close supervision. This would be one step among several to bring down the migration costs. In August last year the Expatriate and Overseas Employment Ministry formed a committee to re-fix the migration costs. The committee is yet to complete its work. It is learned that the process of collecting data from the various countries concerned is still going on. There have been delays in receiving information from the Bangladesh embassies in the countries of destination for the migrant workers, it has been reported. This process should be expedited and the task of the committee completed soon.
The third major problem faced by the migrant workers is remittance of money from the wages/income earned. Remittance is an important source of finance for millions of beneficiary households in Bangladesh. Many families depend on this for their sustenance. Globally, migrants sent home US$ 1.5 billion in 2014 through official channels, according to the ILO Report. In Bangladesh remittance money has helped recipient households to finance health care, housing, education and small business, It has enabled millions of households to overcome their consumption constraints. According to households surveys carried out by the Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics (BBS) remittance income has helped lower poverty by about 6.0 per cent in recent years.
Ironically, blue collar migrant workers find it difficult to remit from their earnings in small amounts. Migrant workers employed in low-wage work are discouraged to remit small amounts like $50 by the financial institutions (often of Bangladesh origin) involved in remittance business. The migrants are made to pay inflated fee ranging from 8.0 to 10 per cent of the total transfer value if the amount remitted is small. To obviate this migrant workers remit funds in larger amounts, say $200, to their families forgoing monthly remittance of smaller amounts. Some also resort to informal channels, often illegal ones. This deprive the country from adding to its foreign exchange reserves.
It has been pointed out that the average size of an in-country transfer to non-expatriate households within the same income quintile as expatriate families range between $25 and $50 fulfilling the same range of financing needs. This makes out a strong case for a financial mechanism through which wage/income earners can make payments across boarders in small amounts. In recent years a multilateral approach interlinking multiple mobile system, establishing 'one network' has been proposed to transform the remittance markets. This will facilitate money being sent from any mobile. Through an interconnection of service mechanism the network will function as a focal point aggregating and directing transactions from multiple sources to desired destinations. In addition to transaction channelling, aggregators will help build a framework for remittance. This mechanism will ensure sender validation, forex conversion, authorisation, reporting and settlement with necessary flexibility to respond to the needs of the remittance market. The benefits from the 'one network' model stems from the power of unifying multiple systems, it has been pointed out. Linking remittance applications to social networking will help create instant reporting and a feedback mechanism for consumers while improving overall service quality. In Bangladesh mobile banking for transfer of money has already opened a new avenue for quick money transfer. It is worthwhile to consider integrating the 'one network' model to the infrastructure already put in place to transform the remittance market. This will address one of the major hurdles facing the migrant workers.
Lack of adequate skills make the migrant workers work in low-paying wages. There is vast scope for upgrading their skills before they leave for employment abroad which will benefit both the workers and the country through higher income and remittance. It is heartening to know that the government has undertaken a major programme to impart various skills to young men and women under an Asian Development Bank-financed project. This together with the existing skill development training institutes in the country should be fully utilised to produce a steady stream of skilled workers to meet the needs of both the domestic and foreign employment markets.