Frustration grip Bangladeshi workers in Saudi Arabia

Frustration and uncertainty are looming large over Bangladeshi expatriates living in Saudi Arabia as the kingdom has intensified its crackdown on migrant workers, risen taxes and work permit renewal fees and decreased job opportunities.

Economic slowdown coupled with the kingdom’s policy to adopt technology is also adding woes to foreign workers with allegation of female workers facing abuse at the hands of their employers is rampant.

Saudi Arabia, the largest labour market for Bangladesh, is home to 22 lakh Bangladeshi expatriates. Data from Bureau of Manpower, Employment and Training (BMET) shows Bangladesh exported a total of 7,70,147 workers around the world between January 2019 and January 2020 with Saudi Arabia alone taking 4,50,786 migrant workers.

However, a significant number of workers come back each year. Citing the data from Dhaka airport’s Expatriate Welfare Desk, Shariful Islam told the Bangladesh Post that nearly 68,000 migrant workers returned home in 2019.

Among them, Saudi Arabia alone deported 25,000 workers, he added. Shariful, who heads the BRAC’s migration programme, said nearly 6,000 migrants came back this year so far.

Lack of anticipated employment, expiration of ‘Akama’, (work permit) and complexity over free visa coupled with the economic slump are the major reasons for the workers returning from the kingdom, Shariful said.

However, most female workers return due to long working hours, irregular payment of wages and incapability to cope with the environment, he added. Plight of migrants Bangladeshis, living in the kingdom, recently shared their horrors with Dhaka-based media outlets.

Living in Saudi Arabia is getting difficult for the expatriates, especially for them who earn less, a Bangladeshi migrant, who works at a workshop in Jeddah, was quoted by a local daily as saying.

Renewal of the work permit costs now 11,000 Saudi Arabian Riyal (SAR) or Tk 2.53 lakh. Besides, he had to pay income tax at SAR 800 a month last year, which rose to SAR 1100 this year, he added. 

Migrants who run shops and work individually are to pay income tax, which is not applicable to the workers who are employed at a company.

The workers said the number of arrests has jumped in different parts of the kingdom, including Jeddah. Despite having work permit, many Bangladeshis face imprisonment or deportation. Saudi police even arrest the migrant workers if someone changes profession. Chance of being arrested is more among caretakers and drivers causing a panic among the Bangladeshis, he added.

A migrant, who teaches at a school in Medina, claimed many are trying to send back their family members home due to rise in living expenses and taxes as well as fall in income. Another worker, who is a cleaner at a company, said they do not receive their wages regularly making their lives harder. Due to low wages, he cannot send money for his family at home, he added.

Bangladesh envoy in Riyadh Golam Moshi said that the Saudi labour market is shrinking since the kingdom has increased its dependency on technology and adopted automation policy.

Moshi made the comment at a view exchange meeting with a group of Bangladeshi journalists who recently visited the kingdom to perform Umrah. Speaking on the rise in workers facing deportation, the ambassador said many of them are being sent back home due to free visa complexity.

On allegation of women workers facing abuse, Moshi said a Saudi company pays SAR 2000 or Tk 1.7 lakh for sending a woman worker. Sometimes recruiting agencies send unskilled women who face troubles at workplaces. Manpower agents are mostly involved in this case, he said.

Currently 2.53 lakh Bangladeshi female workers are employed in the kingdom while 17 thousands returned home since they were facing problems at workplaces, he added.