Sunday, August 16, 2009

South Asia

Bangladesh. Some 645,779 Bangladeshis went abroad to work in the fiscal year ending June 30, 2009; remittances totaled $9.7 billion in 2008/09 from the 5.6 million Bangladeshis abroad, including two million in Saudi Arabia.

Many of the Bangladeshis completing three-year contracts abroad are being told to return to Bangladesh for a year or more rather than having their contracts renewed as in the past. Almost 71,000 Bangladeshi migrants were sent home without renewals or before the end of their contracts in 2008/09.

The government hopes to send at least 500,000 migrants abroad in 2009/10, citing new destinations that include Romania, Australia, Canada, Russia, South Africa, Sudan and Algeria.

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina visited Bangladeshi migrants in Saudi Arabia in April 2009 and promised to establish an Expatriate Bank that would offer remittance transfers via mobile phones, introduce machine-readable passports, and modernize Bangladesh Biman Airlines. Minister of Expatriates' Welfare and Overseas Employment Khandker Mosharraf Hossain in May 2009 said that the most important issue facing Bangladeshi migrants was the debt they assumed to go abroad. He said: "We are trying to make sure that overseas jobseekers do not need to sell land or borrow money to go abroad for jobs. Expatriates Bank, which is to open soon, will help solve their credit problems."

Hasina also promised to provide other benefits to migrants, including incentives for them to invest in the planned special economic zones to be created in Bangladesh. Saudi Arabia requires the children of migrants in the country to leave at 18; Hasina promised to discuss the issue of the Bangladeshi children of expatriates in Saudi Arabia having to leave at 18 even if their parents remain employed in Saudi Arabia.

In both Bangladesh and Pakistan, over 70 percent of exports are garments and textiles; Bangladesh had garment exports of $11 billion in 2008, a year in which remittances were $9 billion ($9.7 billion in fiscal year 2008/09 ending June 30, 2009, up from $7.9 billion in 2007/08). Some 2.5 million workers are employed in Bangladeshi garment factories, 40 percent of Bangladesh's industrial work force. Over 80 percent of Bangladeshi garment workers are young women from rural areas who work in the greater Dhaka area; garment factory owners have asked for subsidies to avoid closure.

An alternative would be to send more workers abroad. The government officially began to send workers abroad in 1976, when 6,100 were deployed. By 1986, over 68,000 migrants went abroad, and by 1996, deployments surpassed 211,000. Over the next decade, deployments rose slowly, to 382,000 in 2006, but in 2007 deployments jumped to 832,600 and in 2008 to 875,000. Remittances did not rise as fast as deployments— they were $5.5 billion in 2006, and $9 billion in 2008.

About 80 percent of Bangladeshi migrants go to Gulf oil exporters (almost half to Saudi Arabia) and 10 percent to Malaysia. Half are classified as low-skilled.

India. The Emigration Act of 1983 requires low-skilled Indians seeking work abroad to obtain "emigration clearances;" some 845,000 were issued in 2008, primarily to Indians going to the Gulf oil exporters. A proposed new law regulating migration would rate the 1,800 recruiting agencies.

India's trade group Nasscom predicted that revenue from outsourcing by foreign companies would reach $50 billion in India in 2010, up from $47 billion in 2009. Indians say that the recession has not curbed growth in US wages and health care costs enough to slow outsourcing.

One Indian outsourcer said that, to avoid a protectionist outcry, the firm begins to work abroad with Indian guest workers, it then moves the work and jobs to a second country, and finally shifts the work to India. Fast-growing sectors in India work for doctors to schedule patients in the US and Europe and conduct due diligence for business and real estate deals in other countries.

The former CEO of Infosys Technologies in June 2009 agreed to join the Congress-led government that was re-elected in May 2009 for a second five-year term and lead an effort to issue national ID cards to all Indians within five years.

India has about 3.2 million university graduates a year, but employers say that only a quarter are immediately employable. An education advisor to the prime minister said: "our education system churns out people, but industry does not find them useful. The necessary development of skills is missing in our education."

About 20 percent of the graduates, 650,000 a year, have engineering degrees. However, IT outsourcer Wipro says that fewer than a quarter of new engineering graduates are employable immediately because of poor-quality teaching in universities.

The Indian economy was expected to be spared the worst of the global recession, but a sharp decline in foreign investment slowed economic activity.

Sri Lanka. Foreign Employment Promotion and Labor Welfare Minister Keheliya Rambukwella in June 2009 said that the deployment of migrants has not been slowed by the global recession. There are about 550,000 Sri Lankan migrants in Saudi Arabia; 80 percent are female domestic helpers.

Sri Lanka received $2.9 billion in remittances in 2008 from the estimated 1.8 million Sri Lankan migrants abroad.

Nepal. Nepal wants to continue sending workers to Korea under the EPS, which allows most migrants employed in small Korean factories to earn $1,000 a month. Almost 7,000 Nepalese have passed the Korean language test, and 2,600 have been sent to Korea since 2004.

Nepal's economy is hurting, as garment factories close, tourism drops, and more migrants return from abroad. A 2006 agreement ended a long-running Maoist insurgency, but it has been very hard to restore economic growth.

Porimol Palma, "Compensation up, but families in dark," Daily Star, May 26, 2009. Rama Lakshmi, "In India, Educated but Unemployable Youths," Washington Post, May 4, 2009.

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