A large number of foreign professionals are working in Bangladesh without any legal documents, draining a huge amount of foreign currency, researchers and deferent NGOs have found.
Although the government agencies have no statistics on the number of foreign nationals working in Bangladesh, deferent NGOs have estimated that the number might be more than five lakh and more than $5 billion flows out of the country annually for them.
According to private sector sources, a good number of foreign professionals are engaged in Bangladesh’s apparel, textile, buying house, telecommunication, information technology, poultry and poultry feed sectors and most of them are working without permission.
Industry insiders said that a large number of foreign nationals were working in several industrial sectors in Bangladesh because of lack of skilled manpower in the country.
They said that there were two types of illegal foreign employees in the country –– some came on tourist or student visa and continued residing and working without valid documents while some others obtained permits for some organisations but switched to and continued working for some others.
Centre of Excellence for Bangladesh Apparel Industry recently began a research titled ‘Employment of Expatriates and its Alternatives in the RMG Sector of Bangladesh’ in collaboration with the Faculty of Business Studies of Dhaka University to find out reasons for hiring
foreigners and their areas of work in apparel sector.
According to the study proposition, some 5 lakh foreigners are working in Bangladesh and about 1 lakh of them are registered with the Bangladesh Investment Development Authority, Bangladesh Export Processing Zones Authority and NGO Affairs Bureau.
The Centre of Excellence for Bangladesh Apparel Industry is a joint initiative of the International Labour Organisation, the Government of Sweden, Swedish fashion retailer H&M and Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association.
‘The findings of the study would be finalised shortly and it would disseminated at a seminar,’ centre president Md Atiqul Islam said.
He said that they did not know detail about the foreign employees in Bangladesh as there was no integrated list of foreigners working in Bangladesh in absence of coordination among the government agencies concerned.
‘We assume that more than $5 billion is annually spent for foreign employees and we are working to find out the real scenario as there is no study on the foreigners working in Bangladesh,’ Atiqul said.
On December 12, 2017, finance minister AMA Muhith said that the government wanted to raise mid-level managerial experts for the growing textile and leather industries to check the outflow of fund sent by foreign employees, especially Indians.
At a contract signing ceremony at the ministry, Muhith told reporters that the amount was whopping $5 billion annually.
Two wings – industrial and commercial – of Bangladesh Investment Development Authority issue work permit to foreigners but due to lack of expertise, data available with the authority does not show the real figure of current legal foreign employees.
As per the data, the authority issued 7,642 new industrial work permits to foreigners in the past five years while it also renewed work permits for 11,059 foreign nationals during that period.
The authority also issued some 5,500 new commercial work permits and renewed some 6,300 permits in the past five years.
‘It will take time to identify the exact number of foreign nationals currently working in Bangladesh with work permits as we are running our regular work amid shortage of manpower and expertise,’ said authority’s executive member Navash Chandra Mondol.
He also said that not only the authority, two more government bodies – Bangladesh EPZ Authority and NGO Affairs Bureau also issued work permits to the foreigners.
Navash said that the home ministry might provide the actual data of foreigners staying and working in Bangladesh with or without valid documents.
One of the security and immigration high officials at the home ministry said that the ministry had no accurate data on foreigners working in Bangladesh legally and illegally.
‘Without setting up a database, it is not possible to preserve the update status of foreign nationals working in Bangladesh and the ministry would initiate a move for setting up a digital database for foreigners,’ he said.
The foreigners mainly come from India, Sri Lanka, China, Pakistan, South Korea, Taiwan and some European and African countries, said people engaged in the study.
Foreign employees are holding key positions in manufacturing industries and information technology sector, they said.
In the apparel and textile sectors and buying houses, foreigners are working as merchandiser, quality controller, designer, marketing officer and technician at washing and dyeing units.
‘There are no foreign workers in the RMG sector but some foreign professionals hold top managerial and technical posts in the sector,’ said Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association vice-president Mahmud Hassan Khan Babu.
He said that due to lack of skilled manpower in the country, factory owners were appointing foreigners.
‘We do not know the exact number of foreigners working in the apparel sector but the number would be very small,’ association president Md Siddiqur Rahman said.
A recent survey conducted by the Centre for Policy Dialogue found foreign employees in 16 per cent of apparel factories.
Centre for Policy Dialogue distinguished fellow Mustafizur Rahman said that data on foreigners working in Bangladesh was not available for making comments on the issue but as per a study published in 2015, Bangladesh was the 5th largest remittance source for India.
‘The government should establish a computerised database on foreigners and it should think how we can substitute locals for foreign employees,’ he said.
The government has to identify the reasons for hiring foreigners in industrial sectors and whether the curriculums of college and universities need to be changed for producing need-based skilled manpower, Mustafiz said.
In 2015, a study based on World Bank Remittance Data conducted by Pew Research Centre showed Bangladesh as the 5th largest remittance source for India and more than $4.08 billion was remitted to India from Bangladesh in 2012.
Labour secretary Afroza Khan said, ‘The issue of foreign employees in Bangladesh has been surfaced as a much-talked-about matter and it is really unfortunate that we have no integrated list of foreigners and ministries concerned should work in a coordinated manner in this regard.’
She said that not only the government, factory owners were also responsible for undocumented foreign employees.
Afroza suggested factory owners to scrutinise the visa and other documents of foreign nationals before the appointment.
According to media reports, an intelligence agency informed home ministry in 2007 that about 5 lakh Indian nationals were illegally working in various sectors in Bangladesh and remitting millions of taka to India through illegal channels.
The home ministry had raised the issue at the home secretary-level meeting of the two neighbouring countries in New Delhi in August 2007, media reported.
The National Board of Revenue in October 2017 initiated a move to check income tax evasion by foreign nationals working in Bangladesh with the connivance of their employers.
It decided to inspect at least 30 factories without notice to find out illegal foreign employees in the second phase of such drive after getting a mixed outcome from the inspections at five companies in the first phase.
According to the Income Tax Ordinance 1984, tax officials can impose penalty on companies and their owners as much as 50 per cent of their total payable income tax, or Tk 5 lakh, and scrap all other tax benefits as fine for recruiting unauthorised foreigners.
According to the law, employers need to obtain permit from the Bangladesh Investment Development Authority and other agencies concerned for recruiting each foreigner.
Foreign workers also have to pay income tax at the rate of 30 per cent.
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