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January 2012, Volume 19, Number 1

South Asia

Bangladesh. Remittances reached a record $11 billion in 2010, sent home by some of the seven million Bangladeshis abroad. The World Bank expects remittances to top $12 billion in 2011, when over 500,000 Bangladeshi migrants were deployed abroad.

Almost 36,000 Bangladeshis returned from Libya early in 2011 because of the fighting that eventually led to the death of Muammar Gaddafi. They received 50,000 taka ($655) in cash, financed with a $40 million loan to Bangladesh from the World Bank. An IOM survey of the returned Bangladeshis found that over 90 percent of those receiving "re-integration grants" wanted to return to Libya, and there were media reports of recruiters sending Bangladeshis who thought they were going to Libya to work to Egypt and Sudan as tourists. There were 10,000 Bangladeshis in Libya in Fall 2011.

The surveys found that most migrants who returned from Libya had paid three times the maximum recruitment charge of 84,000 taka ($1,100), and that many had received lower wages than promised in their contracts. One survey reported that 85 percent of returned migrants had debts in Bangladesh or were owed back wages by their Libyan employers. One returned worker said that he paid 240,000 taka ($3,125) for his Libyan job, financed with a mortgage on the family's farm land, but has little to show after 10 months in Libya because his Libyan employer disappeared with six months' wages. He now makes 250 taka ($3.25) a day selling fruit from a pushcart in Dhaka.

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina on December 18, 2011 said that over 1.4 million Bangladeshi workers went abroad during her three years in power, a period in which Bangladesh received $32 billion in remittances. Hasina said that the Probashi Kalyan or Expatriate Bank created in 2010 would make "soft loans" to workers planning to go abroad at nine percent interest to cover predeparture costs.

Bank profits are to be used to augment the skills of Bangladeshis so they can earn more abroad and to reintegrate migrants who have returned. Probashi announced in January 2012 that it would give loans at 11 percent to groups of 100 returned migrants who propose viable projects in agriculture or fisheries.

Hasina, saying that "We must maintain quality, not only quantity while exporting manpower," wants to send more skilled Bangladeshis abroad. About 50,000 Bangladeshis a year are trained at 38 technical training institutes. The government plans to open 35 more training institutes to double graduates to 100,000 a year.

Hasina said that her government was working to improve conditions for Bangladeshis abroad, noting that over 16,000 Bangladeshis were legalized in the Maldives and 268,000 in Malaysia. She threatened to crack down on recruiters who violate Bangladeshi laws, saying: "Sometimes, it was seen that going abroad after spending huge sum of money, the workers cannot realize their migration cost in the stipulated time. This is very tragic for a worker."

Migrant advocates say that Bangladeshi labor attaches often know little about host-country labor law, limiting their ability to help migrants in trouble abroad.

Some 500 female garment workers sent to Jordan by the government recruitment agency BOESL in spring 2011 went on strike in September 2011, alleging that their employer, Taiwan's Maintrend International, beat workers who made mistakes, fired those who could not meet production quotas, and housed workers in inadequate dorms. Some 240 Indians struck Maintrend in Jordan in September-October 2010; this strike was settled with payments of 3.5 months wages and tickets back to India. BOESL, which charged the workers 10,000 taka each, said that if Maintrend closes in Jordan, it will try to find the workers it sent there other overseas jobs at no charge.

The Jordan Garments, Accessories and Textiles Exporters Association says that 16,000 Jordanian and 27,000 migrant workers are employed in the sector. The government wants to raise the minimum wage of JOD 150 ($162) a month to JOD 190. Most employers also provide migrant workers with housing and food.

Bangladesh's major manufacturing industry is ready-made garments, exporting almost $18 billion a year.

About 70 percent of Bangladeshis live in rural areas and depend on farming an average two acres of land (multiple cropping is common). There are also landless peasants who sometimes farm land that is created during annual floods. Instead of rural-urban migration, some economists urge improving Bangladesh's transportation infrastructure so that more people can remain in rural areas and work in factories. For example, sewing jobs in ready-made garment factories are now mostly in major cities but, if rural areas had better roads and electricity, some of these jobs could be shifted to rural areas.

India. India has two kinds of passports, ordinary and Emigration Check Required (ECR). Low-skilled workers going to 17 countries, including Gulf oil exporters, have ECR passports that must be checked by the government before departure by Protectors of Emigrants. POEs are to ensure that outgoing female domestic workers are at least 30, have acceptable contracts with foreign employers, and will have employer-provided mobile phones.

Many Indian migrants leave from Kerala, the richest Indian state that is close to the Gulf. Helping Keralites to move to Gulf oil exporters has become a major business, with recruiters and travel agencies charging $1,000 to $2,000 to help workers secure jobs that pay $200 to $300 a month for two or three years. Remittances to Kerala are about $7 billion a year.

India had 1.2 billion residents in 2010, and is projected to have 1.5 billion in 2030, suggesting a population growth rate of 1.1 percent. China had 1.3 billion people in 2010, and India is projected to surpass China in population by 2025. About two-thirds of Indians are in the 15- to 64- working age group, and 12 million Indians enter the labor force each year, so that before 2025 India will have the world's largest labor force. Half of China's residents, but only 30 percent of India's residents, live in cities.

India has some of the world's most protective labor laws for firms with 100 or more employees, giving rise to temp agencies such as TeamLease that provide "temporary workers" to employers. TeamLease manages the sales staff of appliance maker Whirlpool, whose 2,000 sales people are employed in India's 28 states, each of which has its own minimum wage. A quarter of India's industrial workers in 2007 were employed on temporary contracts, and the share of contract workers is rising.

India has anti-poverty programs that provide basic foods and kerosene to the poor, but they are rife with corruption and inefficiency. A survey of 73,000 households in nine Indian states released in January 2012 found that over 40 percent of Indian children under age five suffer from malnutrition, prompting calls for India ensure that economic growth benefits all Indians.

Indians in the US are among the most successful immigrant groups. There were almost three million US residents born in India in 2010, according to the census. The median household income for US households with Indian-born heads was $90,000, almost twice the US average. Almost 50 percent of Indian-born adults had at least a bachelor's degree in 2010, and almost 40 percent had higher degrees, compared to 30 percent and 11 percent of all US residents.

Nepal. There are 3.5 million Nepalis working abroad, including over 70 percent low-skilled and 28 percent semi-skilled; only one percent were considered professionals. The Nepalese government in December 2011 reported that average monthly wages for Nepali workers abroad ranged from $125 in most Gulf states to $175 in Malaysia and $1,000 or more in Israel and Korea.

Nepal, like many migrant-sending countries, requires departing migrants to obtain certificates showing that they attended a predeparture orientation class about the country in which they will be employed. NGOs criticized the Nepali predeparture orientation, saying it involved lectures to large groups of departing workers that are largely ignored by those required to sit in the class. Over 300,000 Nepali workers a year go abroad, and 60 percent buy required predeparture orientation certificates rather than participate in classes organized by one of the 49 organizations providing the certificates.

There are over 1,000 Nepalese recruiting agencies, and fewer than 75 employees in the Foreign Employment Department to monitor them and departing migrants.

Sri Lanka. Dilan Perera, Minister for Foreign Employment Promotion and Welfare, in December 2011 reported that 1.7 million Sri Lankans were outside the country in 2010, when remittances were $4.1 billion or eight percent of GDP. Perera predicted that remittances could top $5 billion in 2011, and announced the launch of a new bank-issued debit card with the worker's photo that can be used as a second ID.

Most Sri Lankan migrants are women who work in private homes abroad. Perera said that the minimum age for female domestic workers, which was recently raised to 21, should be raised to 30, and that Sri Lankan workers abroad should earn at least $400 a month. The MOFEPW provides life insurance for departing migrants, low-cost housing loans and loans to pay recruitment costs via state banks.

The Sri Lankan government would like to send more skilled and professional workers abroad to increase remittances and protections; the goal is to receive $10 billion in remittances in 2015. Sri Lanka signed a bilateral agreement with Italy that is expected to provide up to 3,500 jobs for Sri Lankans and reduce illegal migration and human trafficking. Sri Lanka hopes to send 2,500 construction workers and 500 care givers in Israel in 2012, and to sign a bilateral agreement with Qatar to send workers to that country to help prepare for the soccer world cup in 2022.

Sri Lanka has signed MOUs with Jordan, UAE, Bahrain, Libya and South Korea, and hopes to sign an MOU with Saudi Arabia.

"PM warns against fraudulence in manpower export," Daily Star, December 18, 2011.