Remittance has been on the rise in recent years riding on an annual export of more than 7 lakh economic migrants since 2016 – in a development that has helped the government manage the economy smoothly.
But the manpower export is expected to witness an alarming fall this year due to restrictions on movement across the globe since March aimed at tackling the spread of the coronavirus pandemic.
Bangladesh sent 181,218 workers in the first three months of 2020, after which manpower export came to a halt, according to data from the Bureau of Manpower, Employment and Training.
There is little scope to send manpower to the Gulf countries due to the ongoing financial meltdown where nearly 80 per cent of the 1.20 crore-odd Bangladeshi migrant workers are employed.
Remittance hit an all-time high of $18.20 billion in the just-concluded fiscal year. But this can't be sustained and the downfall may even be prolonged given the ongoing pandemic and financial recession.
Against the backdrop, the country will have to explore new markets and undertake medium and long-term plans to export skilled people, experts said.
"The government should give emphasis on East Asian countries as they are less affected compared to other host nations of the Bangladeshi expats," said Mustafizur Rahman, a distinguished fellow of the Centre for Policy Dialogue.
Malaysia, Singapore, South Korea and Japan will turn their economy around in a quick manner as they have successfully controlled the pandemic, he said.
Last fiscal year, the four countries ranked 7th, 10th, 12th and 22nd positions respectively in terms of the remittance sent to Bangladesh, according to data from the central bank.
"Bangladesh will face deep trouble from the Gulf countries as they are in a stringent recession in the wake of dwindling oil prices in the global market," Rahman said.
Bangladesh received remittance worth $4.01 billion from Saudi Arabia in fiscal 2019-20, which is 22.05 per cent of what Bangladesh got from around the globe that year.
Remittance from the United Arab Emirates and Kuwait stood at $2.47 billion and $1.37 billion respectively last fiscal year.
A good number of expats might be sending their deposits now as part of preparations of leaving the host country, for which the remittance has hit a record high for the time being, Rahman said.
Last fiscal year's inflows were 10.87 per cent higher compared to that in the previous year. Expatriate Bangladeshis sent home $1.83 billion in June, also the highest for a single month, eclipsing the $1.74 billion that flowed in May last year.
"We should strengthen our diplomatic process such that remittance does not decline alarmingly from the Middle East," Rahman said.
It is reported that seven lakh to eight lakh expats from the Gulf nations are waiting to come back home due to the ongoing economic fallout.
Bangladesh should place the issue at the Colombo Process, popularly known as the Migrant Forum in Asia, which is working to ensure migrants' rights, Rahman said.
Bangladesh and the majority of its workers' host nations are members of the forum, which runs on the basis ofthe United Nations declaration on human rights and convention on the protection of rights of migrant workers.
If Bangladesh can place its issues at the forum properly, the jobs of many of its expats might end up being retained.
The country could try to export manpower focusing on the healthcare sector of different nations, Rahman said.
"Demand for pathological lab technicians and nurses is on the rise due to the pandemic. So, the government could consider the issue," he said.
There is little hope to sustain the previous trends of remittance this year, said Ahsan H Mansur, executive director of the Policy Research Institute of Bangladesh.
Saudi Arabia has adopted austerity measures to manage its budget deficit amid a heavy fall in petroleum prices, he said.
"European nations are still fighting against the deadly flu. Bangladesh's situation is getting worse day after day," he said.
Remittance inflow will decline at a time when manpower export will nosedive, said Mansur, also a former high official of the International Monetary Fund.
Bangladesh will have to control the pandemic at any cost or else it will have to bear a dreadful cost in the coming days.
Just as an infected person ends up being isolated, the whole country might face the same predicament if the rest of the world sees that Bangladesh has failed to control the pandemic.
The government should take mid and long-term plans to keep the wheels of the remittance moving, Mansur said.
"We must increase the skill of our manpower, which will attract the developed nations," he said.
There is a huge demand for administrative assistance in the developed countries -- a sector in which the country's share is very low, he said.
If manpower can be trained properly, the country will be able to fill the gap, he said.
This was echoed by Syed Mahbubur Rahman, managing director of Mutual Trust Bank.
Bangladesh is lagging behind the Philippines, India and even Nepal in terms of exporting skilled manpower, he said.
"We will not be able to go to a great extent riding on the unskilled manpower. So, we should take initiatives to send skilled manpower," he said.
Emphasis can be laid on the four East Asian countries to export more manpower in order to make the inflow vibrant as their economies will pick up soon, said Mahbubur Rahman, also a former chairman of the Association of Bankers, Bangladesh, a forum of banks' CEOs.
Among the top 10 remittance originating destinations for Bangladesh, there was a contraction of the inflow from the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Qatar and Singapore last fiscal year, showed the central bank data.
Remittance from Saudi Arabia, the US, the UK, Oman, Malaysia and Singapore enjoyed an increasing trend.