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October 2011, Volume 18, Number 4

South Asia, Middle East

India sent 610,300 migrant workers abroad in 2009, Bangladesh 465,000; Pakistan 403,500; Nepal 298,100; and Sri Lanka 247,100.

Bangladesh. The deployment of Bangladeshi migrant workers peaked at 875,000 in 2008 and fell to 465,000 in 2009 and 383,000 in 2010. As in previous years, about three-fourths of those going abroad in 2010 were considered "less-skilled" by the Bangladeshi government. Over half of Bangladeshis going abroad in 2010 went to the UAE.

The government launched the Expatriate Bank April 20, 2011 with 100 crore taka ($13.6 million); 95 percent of the start up funds were from the Expatriate Welfare Fund, which collects $25 from each departing migrant. The bank aims to provide loans to migrants to cover pre-departure costs, establish branches in countries with Bangladeshi workers to channel remittances to Bangladesh, and provide loans to returned migrants to help them to establish businesses in Bangladesh.

Between May and August 2011, the bank made 100 loans to Bangladeshis at nine percent interest, about half of these loans went to migrants going abroad and half to returning migrants. The maximum pre-departure loan is the government-set maximum recruitment fee, which is 84,000 taka ($1,135) for migrants going to Gulf oil exporters. The bank collects repayments from loan guarantors who remain in Bangladesh, not via deductions from migrant wages abroad.

There were about 40,000 Bangladeshis in Libya early in 2011 when the civil war began; almost all returned to Bangladesh by Fall 2011. The Bangladeshi government obtained a $40 million loan from the World Bank to provide 50,000 taka ($675) grants to Bangladeshis who lost jobs in Libya and returned home. The reintegration payments program is administered by IOM and the government's Sonali Bank.

Data from returned Bangladeshi migrants suggest that migration costs averaged $3,000 to get a three-year contract in Libya, compared to $2,000 to get three-year contracts to work in Gulf oil exporters. Libyan wages were also higher, $300 a month rather than $175 to $200 a month in the UAE, the country that took half of the Bangladeshis leaving in 2010. Migrants paid more to work in Libya because of the higher ages and because some Bangladeshis thought that Libya could be a jumping off point to Europe, where wages are even higher.

Bangladeshi media and NGOs regularly decry recruitment abuses, including migration costs that exceed the government-set maximum 84,000 taka ($1,110), or 20,000 taka ($265) for female domestic workers. Bangladeshis in Singapore told CNN in October 2011 that they sold or borrowed against family landholdings to pay $5,000 in migration costs. Migrant workers who are hurt soon after their arrival often lose their jobs and are "repatriated" to limit the employer's workers compensation costs. Local firms charge S$1,000 to find "runaway" workers so that their Singapore employers do not forfeit a $S5,000 bond.

A conference in October 2011 in Dhaka discussed ways to reduce migration costs, including educating workers about foreign jobs, increasing the regulation of recruiters, and standardizing contracts to make it easier for migrants to understand the wages, benefits, and responsibilities of work abroad.

Many rural Bangladeshis see a foreign job as a ticket out of poverty, and sell or mortgage their land in order to pay recruitment fees. Some of the migration costs they incur to go abroad are levied by government agencies and recruiters with ties to politicians who sometimes consider migrant workers winners of a lottery whose "winnings" in the form of higher wages abroad should be "shared" with sending government and associated power brokers. However, migrants leaving in debt are vulnerable to mistreatment abroad, since they find it hard to repay the loans they took out to pay migration costs without foreign wages.

Remittances of about $11 billion a year are 12 percent of Bangladesh's GDP.

There is significant rural-urban migration within Bangladesh, with many men finding jobs in construction. Migrants building housing in Chittagong reported being paid 75 taka ($1) a day as helping hands, 200 taka a day as apprentices, and 400 taka a day as journeymen.

India. The Overseas Indian Affairs Ministry announced in September 2011 that it would launch a program providing resettlement expenses, insurance and pensions returning Indian migrants.

The OIA said there were at least 7.5 million Indians in the Gulf oil exporters, and that the OIA was working with Gulf countries receiving migrant workers to transfer their approved contracts electronically to India. The goal is to minimize contract substitution, as when the migrant signs a contract in India offering one wage and is presented with a contract in the UAE with a lower wage that he feels forced to sign or return immediately to India.

The OIA's goal is to make the labor migration process internet-based, and to ensure that migration occurs under the terms of Human Resource Mobility Partnerships that India hopes to negotiate with migrant-receiving countries.

Kerala, Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh are major sources of migrants headed to Gulf oil exporters such as Dubai. In Kerala, the state with India's highest per capita income, internal migrants from poorer Indian states such as West Bengal fill low-level jobs at wages of Rs 300 ($6.50) a day, below the usual standard. Kerala's state government provides free health care to all residents, including migrants from other states.

India has at least 4.8 million domestic workers in private households, including three-fourths who are women. Long considered a low-paid "part of the family," some Indian states are beginning to treat domestic workers as employees entitled to the minimum wage and time off. Some Indians resist the notion that private homes are work places, and that domestic workers should be considered workers under labor law.

The Indian government is registering its 1.2 billion residents, collecting fingerprints and iris scans as it issues 12-digit ID numbers under the Aadhaar (foundation) system. The goal is to increase the internal mobility of India's 400 million poor residents scattered in 600,000 villages. With the IDs, they will no longer have to stay in their villages to receive government assistance under the current village-based aid system. The Indian government spends significant amounts on welfare and education, but has few effective means of avoiding corruption as, for example, local officials divert grain meant for the poor to the private market.

Nepal. The Nepal Living Standard Survey reported in August 2011 that 20 percent of the Nepalese population is away from home. Over half of Nepalese families have a member away from home, including a third who have a member abroad; 55 percent of households receive remittances from a family member abroad. Some 354,000 Nepalese left to work abroad in 2010-11, when remittances were Rs 210 billion.

Economist Chiranjibi Nepal complained that migration and remittances were not resulting in development: "remittance income is considered to be slow poison for the economy as a growing number of outgoing migrant workers reduces the nation's productivity? in Nepal's case migrant worker's hard earned income has mostly contributed to reducing saving and stimulating inflation."

"Half of households have one member abroad," The Himalayan, August 28, 2011.