Over 7.5 lakh Bangladeshi workers in Saudi Arabia are now in fear of getting deported from the country as their Iqamas—resident cards and work permits—have expired.
The workers could not renew their work permits due to the Saudization of jobs and the increased fees for renewal of job permits, according to a report prepared by the Prime Minister’s Office.
The PMO sent copies of the report to the secretaries of the ministry of foreign affairs and the ministry of expatriates’ welfare and overseas employment asking them to take necessary actions.
On February 5, 2020, the EWOE ministry’s employment wing put up the PMO report titled ‘The current sad plight of Bangladeshi workers in Saudi Arabia and their repatriation to Bangladesh’ and forwarded it to all other relevant officials of the ministry.
The PMO prepared the report on January 7, 2020.
According to the report, 50 per cent of more than 15 lakh Bangladeshi workers in Saudi Arabia lost their jobs on the expiry of their job permits.
As a result they also became undocumented in Saudi Arabia.
When asked, EWOE ministry secretary Salim Reza told New Age that he was not aware about the report that mentioned 50 per cent of the Bangladeshi workers in Saudi Arabia failed to renew their Iqamas.
Referring to his recent discussions with a Saudi delegation at a joint working group meeting, he said that about 18 lakh workers from Bangladesh were estimated to be working in the Arab country.
After asked about the gradual return of Bangladeshi workers from Saudi Arabia, the EWOE secretary talked to the Bangladesh labour counsellors in Saudi Arabia and informed New Age that Bangladeshi workers were coming back under an amnesty launched on last December 22.
‘Bangladeshis who had been working in Saudi Arabia for many years and became undocumented were coming back under the special amnesty,’ he said.
Replying to a question, Salim Reza said that Bangladeshi workers were facing problems in Saudi Arabia after going there with so-called free visas, which should be discouraged by all.
Since January 2017, Saudi Arabia has increased the Iqama renewal fee.
According to the PMO report, Saudi Arabia deported at least 31, 605 Bangladeshi workers in 2019 and 37, 889 in 2018 after detaining them at camps.
According to the Saudi law, changing profession or workplace is a punishable offence.
Job opportunities in Saudi Arabia have shrunk due to the recession and Saudization of jobs, says the PMO report.
Dishonest recruiting agencies are sending thousands of workers to Saudi Arabia on so-called free visas, without the attestation from the Bangladesh embassy or consulates general in Saudi Arabia, says the report.
After landing in that country with those free visas, the Bangladeshi migrants get no job and lead a miserable life there, according to the report.
These workers also face arrest by Saudi police.
The report recommends that before workers are sent to Saudi Arabia, their jobs, work atmospheres and wages should be properly verified by the Bangladesh embassy in that country.
It also recommends blacklisting and other stern actions against the culprit recruiting agencies for flouting the government rules in place.
The report further recommends taking up the issue of increased work permit renewal fee with the Saudi authorities.
The Saudi government has taken a series of decisions to increase its revenue earnings in order to offset the impact of the falling oil prices, according to the Arab News daily.
The Saudi Passport Department asks migrant workers to pay the fees in advance to get their work permits renewed.
Under the new Saudi rules, each worker was required to pay 200 Saudi Riyal in 2018 for each month to get their work permit renewed and 300 Riyal in 2019. The fee for 2020 is 400 Riyal.
Bangladeshi workers who find jobs in Saudi Arabia get monthly wages ranging from 600 Riyals to 1200 Riyals.
Migrant rights activist Al Amin Noyon who worked in Hazrat Shahjalal International Airport as an information officer of the BRAC Migration Programme told New Age that he had talked to thousands of migrant workers who returned from Saudi Arabia in last few years.
Migrant workers told him that they were hard-pressed to survive after employers deducted annual Iqama renewal fees from their monthly wages, Al Amin said.
Besides, many workers do not get jobs right after landing in Saudi Arabia, he said.
When asked, Dhaka University political science professor and Refugee and Migratory Movements Research Unit founding chair Tasneem Siddiqui told New Age that the Bangladesh government should immediately estimate the increased cost of Iqama renewal to sit with the Saudi government.
‘Diplomatic steps should also be taken without delay by the Bangladesh ambassador in Saudi Arabia to request the authorities there to reconsider the enhanced fees for the Iqama renewal,’ she said.
If necessary high-level delegations from Bangladesh should be sent to that country, she viewed.
Tasneem also said that the trend in Bangladesh of sending workers on ‘free- visas’ should be stopped because the workers with such visas would continue to face the same problems after landing there.
Meanwhile, another 145 Bangladeshi workers were deported from Saudi Arabia early Sunday by a Saudi airline which landed at Hazrat Shahjalal International Airport at 12:15am, said officials.
BRAC Migration Programme officials in collaboration with Wage Earners’ Welfare Board provided emergency support to them at the airport.
Since January this year, over 5,500 workers have been sent back from Saudi Arabia, said HSIA officials.
Shahidul Islam from Shibpur upzila of Narsingdi, a returnee, said that he had gone to Saudi Arabia three months ago by spending Tk 3 lakh to work as a driver.
He said that he was sent back empty-handed without citing any reason.
Bijoy Miah and Nasir Uddin from the same area who too returned home Sunday night said that they had gone to that country by spending Tk 3 lakh each with driving visas.
But on reaching there, their employers did not arrange work permits for them, they said.
When Saudi police detained them, they contacted their employers but the employers did not take their responsibilities, they said.
BRAC Migration Program head Shariful Islam said, ‘We have found that many of the workers were sent back from Saudi Arabia within a short time,from three months to one year, after they reached that country.’
Referring to returnees, he said that as employers were not taking responsibilities of the workers in Saudi Arabia the government of Bangladesh should look into the allegations.
If the Bangladesh government does not take the responsibilities of the workers, the government should stop sending workers to Saudi Arabia,’ he said.
Bangladesh Civil Society for Migration co-chair Syed Saiful Haque said that it was alarming for Bangladesh as a large number of its workers remained undocumented on the expiry of their work permits.
‘Immediate diplomatic steps should be taken by the Bangladesh mission there to take up the issue with the Saudi Arabia authorities,’ he said.
He also said that poor migrant workers of Bangladesh spent huge amounts of money for jobs in Saudi Arabia and hence they should be compensated for their premature return.
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