Bangladesh’s Labour Migration in the Gulf Region: Trends and Directions

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The Middle East is undoubtedly a profitable location for Bangladeshi workers, and this attraction cannot be denied. Bangladeshi laborers have had the opportunity to look at career options outside of the typical manual labour industries in recent years. They now have the opportunity to enter developing markets like technology, tourism, and hospitality. For Bangladeshi nationals with the requisite abilities, this shift in Middle Eastern nations’ investment priorities offers fresh chances to choose other career paths and contribute significantly to these expanding sectors.

Bangladesh has effectively transferred about 1.54 crore labourers overseas between June 2023 and 1976. More specifically, 1.25 crore workers have left Bangladesh since 2004. Approximately 91.13 percent of them were aimed towards a small group of eight nations. These nations are located in Southeast Asia and the Gulf area, namely Malaysia and Singapore, and include Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Qatar, and Oman, Bahrain. Bangladesh accomplished a great deal in 2023 when it sent an astounding 13.07 lakh workers overseas, with a substantial portion of those workers—7.8 lakh—going to the Gulf region. With 498,000 Bangladeshi labourers, Saudi Arabia was the most favored destination out of all of them. Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, and Oman all drew sizable labour forces.

Despite the difficulties brought on by inflationary pressures and uncertainty in the world economy, there is a robust and consistent trend in the remittance flows into Bangladesh, particularly from the Gulf area. Amidst challenges such as slow global economic growth and elevated rates of inflation, Bangladesh had a notable surge in remittance inflows in the first quarter of 2023, amounting to USD 5541.82 million. This was a noteworthy increase of 9.55 percent from the same quarter last year and 14.97 percent from the prior quarter. This article examines the persistent strength of remittance flows from the Gulf area to Bangladesh, which are crucial to the country’s economy and highlight the important role played by migrant workers. The steady rise in remittance inflows despite uncertainty in the world economy shows Bangladeshi expats’ steadfast faith in their country’s economic future and their commitment to supporting their family back home.

Bangladesh’s Labour Migration Trends and Directions in the Gulf Areas

Another factor that makes moving skilled labour from Bangladesh to the Gulf area appealing is the possibility of larger remittances from skilled and semi-skilled workers than from their less skilled counterparts. The move by the Bangladeshi government to impose minimum wage restrictions on outbound labourers is indicative of its commitment to making sure that its nationals employed outside are fairly compensated. In addition to shielding employees against exploitation, the compensation structure encourages the acquisition of knowledge and abilities that are valued more highly. The economic justification for giving skilled labour migration priority is shown by the fact that, in real terms, sending one skilled worker to the Gulf area might result in three times higher remittances than sending three less qualified individuals. This paradigm change emphasizes how crucial it is to match Bangladesh’s workforce development initiatives with the changing demands of the Gulf market in order to maximize the socioeconomic advantages for migrant workers and their families back home.

The main donor in the past, Saudi Arabia (KSA), had a decrease in 2023. Changes in the kingdom’s policies, the state of the economy, or variations in the demand for labour might all be contributing causes to this decline. Saudi Arabia is still a popular destination for Bangladeshi labourers despite this decline, but understanding future remittance flows requires keeping an eye on current patterns. On the other hand, remittances to the United Arab Emirates (UAE) increased considerably. This increase points to more chances for Bangladeshi workers in industries including services, hotels, and construction. The favorable trajectory of the UAE’s economy may be attributed to its continued attempts to diversify it and its dependence on foreign labour.

Country-wise Workers’ Remittances (in million USD)

Country 2022 2023
UAE 2593 3270
KSA 4016 1966
Qatar 1360 838
Kuwait 1612 1101
Oman 729 697
Bahrain 520 442

Source: https://www.bb.org.bd/en/index.php/econdata/wageremitance

Building, tourism, hospitality, and technology are among the industries in which Bangladeshi migrants might find possibilities as Gulf nations diversify their economies away from oil reliance. Bangladesh need to concentrate on educating its labour population to meet the changing needs of these industries. In the Gulf area, there is an increasing need for trained and semi-skilled labourers, who may earn more money than unskilled labourers. Prioritizing skill development initiatives would help Bangladesh’s workers become more employable and increase remittance revenues. Remittance patterns are influenced by changes in geopolitical conditions, economic policy, and labour demand. To take advantage of new possibilities, Bangladesh must constantly monitor these dynamics and modify its migration policies as necessary.

Country-wise Workers’ Remittances 2009-2021 (in Crore Taka)

Period Saudi Arabia U.A.E. Kuwait Qatar Oman Bahrain Total
2009 19,673 12,080 6,678 2,362 1,996 1,082 66,676
2010 23,709 13,077 7,050 2,496 2,414 1,177 76,014
2011 23,447 14,274 7,668 2,273 2,378 1,326 83,008
2012 29,246 19,094 9,411 2,659 3,185 2,380 101,882
2013 30,645 22,629 9,487 2,297 4,875 2,890 115,646
2014 24,240 20,866 8,602 2,001 5,448 3,570 110,582
2015 25,987 21,934 8,371 2,409 7,109 4,306 118,982
2016 23,165 21,248 8,122 3,379 7,132 3,806 116,856
2017 17,943 16,573 8,180 4,562 7,107 3,465 101,098
2018 21,303 19,981 9,868 6,950 7,874 4,451 123,156
2019 26,143 21,351 12,301 8,605 8,961 3,950 138,006
2020 34,046 20,962 11,633 8,643 10,517 3,706 154,353
2021 48,521 20,692 15,998 12,298 13023 4,899 210130

Source: https://www.bb.org.bd/en/index.php/econdata/wageremitance

Furthermore, bolstering bilateral accords and collaborative structures with Gulf nations may expedite labour migration procedures, guarantee the safeguarding of migrant labourers’ rights, and augment remittance inflows. Bangladesh should look at chances in developing markets like Qatar, Oman, and Kuwait, even if traditional travel destinations like Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates are still important. By spreading out your travel destinations, you may reduce the dangers that come with depending too much on one market.

However, using digital platforms for hiring, training, and oversight may increase openness, lessen the exploitation of migrant labourers, and expedite the migration process benefiting Bangladesh as well as the host nation. Incorporating social protection programmes for migratory labourers, such as providing them with legal aid, insurance, and healthcare, may improve their productivity and well-being overseas and support long-term migration results.

Last but not least, Bangladesh should give migrant diplomacy top priority on its foreign policy agenda. It should interact with Gulf nations to resolve shared issues, advance labour rights, and create long-term alliances for inclusive growth. In Bangladesh’s migration sector, ongoing research and data analysis on labour migration trends, skill needs, and remittance patterns are crucial for well-informed policies and efficient resource allocation.

What Actions Are Necessary for A Brighter Future?

In order to satisfy the needs of the Gulf labour market, Bangladesh must continue to develop its skilled labour force and provide them chances for reskilling and upskilling. Bangladesh may strengthen its position as a major participant in the global labour market, increase remittance inflows, and promote economic development domestically by deliberately directing its labour force into industries with strong growth potential and value-added possibilities. To protect national interests, Bangladesh’s government must give migratory diplomacy top priority in its foreign policy. To reduce unemployment rates and promote socioeconomic progress, this means concentrating on the export of skilled labour. Bangladesh must move quickly to take advantage of the changing economic dynamics in the Middle East, particularly in the next five years, as it recognises the seriousness of the situation. Bangladesh has a great chance to take advantage of the acute need for skilled labour created by the region’s shift to varied industries. Moreover Bangladesh needs to coordinate its labour export policy with Middle Eastern nations’ development agendas, such Saudi Arabia’s “Vision 2030”. Bangladesh can strengthen its position in important areas and take advantage of new possibilities by doing this. Although Bangladesh is heavily involved in manual labour industries like construction, there is an increasing need for trained personnel in the tourism, hospitality, and technology sectors. Therefore, in order to maximise remittance profits, the government must encourage the export of skilled and semi-skilled people. It’s also critical to strengthen the Ministry of Overseas Employment and Expatriates’ Welfare. This entails increasing its ability and resources budgetary allotments and labour support to efficiently assist employment abroad.

To guarantee a seamless supply of labour, Bangladesh has to sign Memorandums of Understanding (MoUs) with the nations where it intends to send workers. Furthermore, encouraging cooperation between the ministry and Bangladesh’s foreign embassies may aid in building networks with foreign businesses in search of employment prospects. Lastly to satisfy the changing needs of international markets and improve the capacities of Bangladeshi workers, it is imperative to invest in skill development programmers. To attract and keep qualified workers, it will also be crucial to provide fair remuneration in line with industry norms.

To summarize, Bangladesh is experienced to the Gulf area and emphasizes the significance of skilled labour in terms of diversifying the economy and maximizing the amount of money that is sent back home by Bangladeshi workers. This article covers the patterns and directions of labour migration, drawing attention to the move towards skilled and semi-skilled workers as well as the need of aligning with the development objectives of Gulf States. The conclusion emphasizes the need of Bangladesh making the development of skills a priority, strengthening bilateral agreements, and improving diplomatic ties with Gulf States in order to guarantee the achievement of sustainable migration results and economic progress.

– S. M. Saifee Islam is a Research Associate at the KRF Center for Bangladesh and Global Affairs (CBGA).

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