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Migration Policies | Bangladesh |

Bangladesh The Rohingya Refugee Crisis Bangladesh at a Glance Historical Developments International Migration from Bangladesh Migration Policies International Migration Urbanization, Migration Systems within Bangladesh and Translocal Social Spaces Climate Change and Internal Migration in Bangladesh References

Migration Policies

Benjamin Etzold Bishawjit Mallick

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Bangladesh is rather a country of emigration than a major immigrant destination. As a result, a political framework has been created only for the management of out-migration. The "export" of laborers plays a significant role in Bangladesh’s long-term development strategies. The nation’s migration policies and its governmental institutions hence aim at enhancing the number of Bangladeshi migrant workers and seek to increase and better utilize their remittances.

Returning labour migrants wait for their luggage at Dhaka airport. The bank advertisement in the background of the image promotes fast, easy and safe remittances. (© Benjamin Etzold)

In 1976, the Bureau of Manpower, Employment and Training (BMET) was established as an attached department of the – back then – Ministry of Manpower Development and Social Welfare, which ought to care for the manpower requirements of, and thus the reproduction of labor in, the country. In 1982, a new Emigration Ordinance replaced the previously existing Emigration Act from 1922. To-date, it provides the legal framework for regulating recruitment and placement of migrant workers from Bangladesh. On the basis of this law, the government created a welfare fund for migrant workers. The fund has been used to enhance language skills of outgoing laborers, to introduce service desks for migrants at Dhaka’s international airport, to support migrant workers at their destinations through the labor attachés of the respective Bangladeshi embassy, to cover the costs of repatriating the bodies of migrant workers who died overseas, and to compensate their families for their loss. In 1998, Bangladesh signed the UN’s International Convention on the "Protection of Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families", which is one of migrant-sending countries' most important political tools in negotiations with countries that rely on foreign labor, and ratified it in 2011.

Since 2002, the government grants licenses to individuals and agencies who wish to be engaged in the recruitment of manpower for overseas employment. The government may cancel, suspend or penalize the recruitment licenses in the case of violating the prescribed code of conduct. In 2015, 900 agencies were registered. Although the management and recruiting policies of most of those agencies are under suspicion of being corrupt and violating the code of conduct that is also meant to protect migrant workers' rights, the government has not yet taken any significant action against them.

An important change has been the withdrawal of restrictions for unskilled female labor migrants in 2003. Under the ban that had been introduced in 1981, lowly skilled female workers were not allowed to out-migrate. Only highly educated women did formally have access to foreign employment. Nonetheless, many unskilled women migrated to countries like Malaysia in order to work there as housemaids, for instance. The undocumented status at their destination even enhanced their vulnerability. The law also reflected the social stigma of women who worked abroad. Since lowly skilled women may – again – legally work abroad, the gender composition of out-going migrants has changed significantly (Interner Link: see section on labor migration).

Most of the Bangladeshis working abroad only have access to the labor market for unskilled or low-skilled workers and are trapped in low-paid jobs – often under exploitative conditions (see Interner Link: Infobox). "Decent work" in terms of better access to employment – both at home and abroad –, the recognition of fundamental rights at work, and higher incomes with which workers can better meet their families’ basic needs, is now high on the political agenda of international organizations. Bangladesh’s government has recognized the need to better protect its migrant workers and to enhance the skills and qualifications of both its domestic workforce and migrant workers. This should pave the way for improved labor conditions and higher remittances. A better coordination of and higher educational standards at the almost 3,000 public and private institutions that provide technical and vocational education and training (TVET) is aimed at. The BMET operates 47 Technical Training Centres (TTCs) in the country, which seek to enhance the professional skills of Bangladeshi workers in trades that are in particular demand both domestically as well as internationally. In 2011, the government also established a "Migrant Welfare Bank" with a starting capital of 100 million Bangladeshi Taka (BDT) in order to further support international labor migration. The bank provides loans to prospective migrants who can thereby pay the significant costs of labor recruitment, it seeks to reduce the costs of and facilitate international remittances for expatriate workers, and it provides investment loans for returnee migrants and their families.

In 2012, the governments of Bangladesh and Malaysia signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) in order to better regulate and control the sending and receiving of migrant workers and to reduce incentives for irregular migration between both countries. The MoU did, however, not lead to a significant increase of skilled labor migration from Bangladesh. In contrast, irregular migration flows in the Andaman Sea reached new heights in 2014 and 2015. In 2013, the government of Bangladesh passed the "Overseas Employment and Migrants Act". Under this law, migrant workers can lodge criminal cases for deception or fraud against recruiting, visa, and travel agencies as well as employers. In civil cases they can seek compensation from these actors. Despite numerous reports on fraud by recruiters and employers, on extortion by people’s smugglers en route to Malaysia, for instance, and on inhumane working conditions at various destinations, no cases have been filed under this law yet.

Table 4: Chronological development of migration laws and institutions regulating labor migration from Bangladesh

1976Establishment of Bureau of Manpower, Employment and Training (BMET)
1982A new Emigration Ordinance replaced the 1922 Emigration Act
1990Establishment of Welfare Fund for Migrant Workers
1998Signature of the UN’s International Convention on Protection of Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families
2002Government starts to grant licenses to agencies for recruiting overseas employment
2003Government relaxes restrictions on female labor migration
2011Establishment of Migrant Welfare Bank (Probashi Kallyan Bank)
2012Memorandum of Understanding between Bangladesh and Malaysia on sending and receiving workers
2013 Enactment of the Overseas Employment and Migrants Act 2013

Emigration from Bangladesh is often discussed in terms of the question whether it presents a "brain drain" or "brain gain" for the country. On the one hand, the emigration of professional and skilled Bangladeshis is a loss for the country with regard to human resources (i.e. skills and knowhow). On the other hand, migrants’ remittances are an important contribution to Bangladesh's GDP and therefore a development tool. Moreover, emigrants gain knowledge and skills abroad that can contribute to Bangladesh's development in case of their return to the country. The diaspora community is thus also increasingly recognized as an important driver and facilitator of development. Members of the diaspora not only support their families and home communities. Many have also made significant contributions in different sectors, particularly in construction, agriculture, technology and banking.

This article is part of the Interner Link: country profile Bangladesh.

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Dr. Benjamin Etzold is Research Associate and Lecturer at the Department of Geography of Bonn University, Germany. He wrote his dissertation on street trading in the mega city Dhaka and was part of a research project on climate change, hunger and migration in Bangladesh. His research foci are development geography and migration studies with a focus on social vulnerability and labor conditions.
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Dr. Bishawjit Mallick is Research Associate at the Institute of Regional Science at the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology, Germany. In his dissertation, he analyzed social responses to climate risks in Bangladesh's coastal areas. Currently, his research focuses on risk-oriented spatial planning and climate-induced migration processes in Bangladesh.
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