DHAKA: The government of Bangladesh will provide $300 to each migrant worker traveling to Saudi Arabia to cover expenses related to coronavirus disease (COVID-19) measures after their arrival in the Kingdom as part of a $3.5 million initiative to extend financial support, officials said on Tuesday.
These include costs incurred for tests and mandatory hotel quarantine stay, with authorities saying they had received more than 500 applications since Monday.
“We started receiving the applications Monday, and workers will receive the subsidy amount of $300 in their designated bank accounts after their arrival in Saudi Arabia,” Mohammed Sarwar Alam, senior assistant secretary at the Ministry of Expatriates’ Welfare and Overseas Employment, told Arab News.
He added that workers who had traveled to the Kingdom before the initiative was launched would be compensated as well, by either submitting the reimbursement forms to the Bangladesh Embassy in Riyadh or the Bangladesh Consulate General in Jeddah by June 30.
Last month, Saudi Arabia issued a travel advisory citing the need for mandatory quarantine for all passengers traveling to the Kingdom between May 20 and June 30 from non-restricted countries, including Bangladesh.
According to government data, at least 145,000 migrant workers have traveled to the Kingdom between January and May, spending $700 to $800 on hotel stays and COVID-19 tests — another prerequisite to travel to the Kingdom, which workers need to complete before leaving the country.
“We will examine all the applications and work hard to release the funds as soon as possible. The workers will hopefully receive the money by next month or even before that,” Alam said.
He added that cash would be sourced from the Wage Earners Welfare Fund to relieve the migrant workers of an “extra burden.”
“Our mission officials in different countries are trying to find a sustainable way to release the workers from this financial burden,” Alam said.
“We are putting maximum effort into vaccinating people before their departure because, ultimately, it’s a sustainable solution. Migrant workers will receive the vaccine on a priority basis once it is available again in the country,” he added.
To receive the subsidy amount from the government, workers must submit a form that includes an emigration clearance certificate, passport, visa, plane ticket copies and hotel receipt.
Bangladeshi workers seeking to travel to the Kingdom welcomed the move.
“During the COVID-19 pandemic, our travel costs to Saudi Arabia increased in many ways; even the airlines now charge more than double compared to before. Amid this situation, the cost of hotel quarantine is a burden for us,” Mohammed Mozammel Hossain, a 33-year-old Saudi-bound migrant worker, told Arab News.
“We are happy that the government came forward to ease the pressure on migrant workers during this hardship,” Hossain added.
Since April 2020, around 500,000 Bangladeshi workers returned home from various countries worldwide, although there was no specific data available on how many were returnees from the Kingdom.
Another migrant worker, 27-year-old Abdul Hannan, said he had taken a huge loan to pay for the travel expenses and hotel stay.
“It would be great if the government could increase the subsidy amount at least up to $500. Then, thousands of migrant workers like me wouldn’t need to struggle so greatly to manage the quarantine expenses,” Hannan told Arab News.
Experts agreed, adding that authorities should accept subsidy application forms during emigration clearance work at the Bureau of Manpower Employment and Training (BMET) instead of at the airports.
“Most of our migrant workers are not educated enough to fill out the forms before departure at the airport. So, this subsidy application can be received by the BMET while processing the emigration clearance,” Shariful Hasan, head of the migration program for Bangladeshi NGO Brac, told Arab News.
Saudi Arabia is the largest destination for Bangladeshi migrant workers, with more than 2 million expatriates residing in the Kingdom. It is also the largest source of foreign remittances to Bangladesh, with more than $4 billion received last year.