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COVID-19 Impacts on the Bangladeshi Diaspora

Borgen Magazine, Bangladesh, 7 August 2021 - Bangladesh is the world’s 11th biggest remittance-recipient nation, meaning that the salaries of foreign migrant workers sent back to their families in the country play a significant part of its economy. However, due to severe job cuts and deportations caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, the Central Bank of Bangladesh has reported that the remittances collected within 2020 were the lowest in the last decade. What are the COVID-19 impacts on Bangladeshi diaspora, migrant workers, their families and how has it changed the country’s economy?

Migrant Workers are Essential for Bangladesh and its Economy

According to the Ministry of Expatriates’ Welfare and Overseas Employment, there are currently around 13 million Bangladeshis working abroad, together bringing approximately $15 billion to the country’s economy. As pursuing foreign work has been highly promoted by the Bangladeshi government since as early as the 1970s, migrant workers have now become a key part of the country’s economy, contributing 12% to Bangladesh’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and generating 9% of its employment, with 700,000 new workers joining the foreign job market every year.

Although Bangladeshi migrant workers are spread across the world, the most popular destinations have been the Middle East and the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries, including Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates as well as Lebanon, Malaysia, South Korea and Singapore. In the last two decades, short-term migration has been the most popular. Many contract workers are returning to Bangladesh after three to 10 years of working abroad.

Social and Economic Impacts of COVID-19

Yet, the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on the Bangladeshi diaspora in the Middle East and across the globe have drastically changed the situation of both families and Bangladesh’s economy. The United Nations International Organisation for Migration provided reports that found that more than 660,000 migrant workers were sent back to Bangladesh with no income or employment opportunities ahead. An additional two million could face deportation in the near future. What’s more, it was the industrial sector that was hit the hardest with estimates of more than 12 million jobs temporarily lost and more than four million permanently lost since the beginning of the pandemic.

Considering that the government’s main strategies for alleviating poverty in the last two decades included foreign work promotion for more skilled workers and domestic employment creation for impoverished communities, this negative leap comes as no surprise. The country’s poverty rate has increased from 20.5% in 2019 to 29.5% in 2020, with year-on-year remittances sent to families monthly decreasing by 25%.

Such reduced cash flow for diaspora families has caused a significant financial crisis back at home. According to the Refugee and Migratory Movement Research Unit, remittances usually account for 85% of migrant workers’ families’ daily spending. In fact, as many as 60% of migrant households depend on them solely. With their main source of income cut by a quarter and domestic and international employment opportunities significantly limited, an additional 33 million Bangladeshi could fall into extreme poverty and risk severe hunger.



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