The government has agreed on principle to bring "middlemen" in the labour migration sector under an accountability framework, expatriates' welfare ministry secretary Ahmed Munirus Saleheen said yesterday.
"We no longer want to think whether it should be done or not. Instead, we want how it can be done," he told an online discussion organised by Refugee and Migratory Movements Research Unit (RMMRU).
The secretary made the remarks amid demands from migrant rights groups that middlemen, also known as sub-agents, should be brought under accountability to ensure safe and orderly migration.
The discussion on the topic, "Streamlining Labour Recruitment through Regularisation of Middlemen" was part of RMMRU's e-symposium series "Build Back Better" on Covid-19 and migration.
Addressing the discussion, Saleheen said under the existing legal framework, there is no provision for employment of middlemen.
However, as per law, each recruiting agent after getting approval from the Bureau of Manpower, Employment and Training (BMET) can employ required number of "representatives" at home and abroad, he said.
He stressed that such provision could be considered while regularising middlemen.
Anisul Islam Mahmud, chairman of the parliamentary standing committee on expatriates' welfare and overseas employment ministry, said different recruiting agents have sub-agents employed unofficially across the country.
"We want those sub-agents to be registered," he said, adding BMET should be the main focal point for the registration process.
Those who have already been involved in the sector will do the job, said Anisul.
However, they have to be registered, so that they can be identified if a person despite paying money is deprived of going abroad for job, he added.
He also said a meeting of the parliamentary committee was held last month where different stakeholders including representatives of Bangladesh Association of International Recruiting Agencies (Baira) discussed the matter.
RMMRU Chair Prof Tasneem Siddiqui said middlemen should be registered with Baira to avoid "conflict of interest".
She said migrant rights groups launched a new campaign for regularisation of middlemen in 2016 in the wake of rise in exploitation and fraudulence in the sector.
As part of the campaign, a survey was conducted on 5,407 households, she said.
The survey found some 19 percent people could not make it for overseas jobs despite paying Tk 1.95 lakh on an average, or about Tk 2,706.2 crore in total, she added.
Some 90 percent respondents said they paid money as migration cost to the middlemen, she mentioned.
Prof Tasneem said middlemen perform 17 different types of functions during labour migrant process.
These include providing information on migration, procurement of work permit, information on training centres, assistance in BMET online registration, support in passport processing, and meeting with recruiting agencies, she said.
Shameem Ahmed Chowdhury Noman, secretary general of Baira, said further brainstorming could be required for the registration process of middlemen.
He said it could be done to create a "win-win" situation for different stakeholders.
Shamsul Alam, director general of BMET, and Shameem Haider Patwary, a member of Parliamentary Caucus on Migration and Development, among others, spoke at the discussion.