DHAKA: Bangladesh is seeking to send 1 million workers abroad this year and diversify labor migration destinations, a top overseas employment official has said, as the country ramps up its COVID-19 vaccination campaign to reach the target.
Over 10 million Bangladeshis are living and working abroad, mainly in the Middle East. They are the second largest contributor of the country’s foreign remittances after the garment sector. Last year alone, they sent over $22 billion back home, according to Bureau of Manpower Employment and Training data.
“We have a plan to export 1 million migrant workers to different countries around the world, and we are working to explore every possibility in this regard,” Mohammed Abdul Kader, additional secretary of employment, policy and research at the Ministry of Expatriates Welfare and Overseas Employment, told Arab News earlier this week.
The government’s target nearly doubles the number of workers Bangladesh exported last year, when COVID-19 restrictions limited travel across the world.
Authorities are hopeful they will be able to reach the target as most of the country’s population has already been vaccinated against the virus.
“At present, there is no country in the world that accepts migrants without having both doses of the vaccine. Since we have reached the vaccination milestone set by the World Health Organization, it will surely keep us ahead in sending migrant workers to the world market, compared with our neighbors,” Kader said.
The WHO has urged countries to push for 70 percent vaccine coverage to stop the rapid spread of COVID-19.
With a population of around 170 million, Bangladesh has already administered around 210 million doses of the COVID-19 vaccines. As it ramped up the drive last month, health officials estimate that 70 percent of Bangladeshis will be fully vaccinated — with two vaccine doses — by early April.
Kader said that with most of its people vaccinated, the Bangladeshi government is planning to expand its labor migration to European countries.
“In early February, we signed a memorandum of understanding with Greece to send migrant workers over, which is a real breakthrough in our manpower exporting sector,” he added. “Now we are trying to open a new window with other European countries also.”
The diversification of destinations would come as Bangladesh’s main labor market — Saudi Arabia, which hosts over 2.5 million Bangladeshi workers and last year admitted nearly 75 percent of the country’s overall migrant manpower — is becoming increasingly competitive, with workers from other countries also seeking opportunities in the Kingdom.
“We have huge human resources, which many other countries in the world don’t have. To maximize the advantage, we need to create more skilled workers and provide training to migrants according to the needs of the receiving countries,” Ali Haider, former secretary-general of the Bangladesh Association of International Recruiting Agencies, told Arab News.
Shariful Hasan, head of the migration program at BRAC, the largest development organization based in Bangladesh, said that in the post-COVID-19 scenario, more jobs will be available for medical technologists and caregivers, and the government should focus on training in these sectors.
“We are much ahead now in terms of COVID-19 vaccination, and there is huge demand in the world market,” he added. “We should seize the opportunities.”