About a week back, a news item on recruitment of foreigners by our private sector in the accounting jobs, published in this daily, attracted my eyes. In fact, the President of ICMAB Mr. M Abul Kalam Mazumdar, while meeting the BIDA Executive Chairman Kazi M Aminul Islam, requested Mr. Islam to take necessary measures to cease appointments of foreign nationals in accounting and financial jobs in Bangladesh. He has emphasised that employment of foreign nationals causes increase in unemployment in the country. He has also informed that a number of companies have been appointing foreigners in accounting and financial functions despite the availability of local professionals with similar expertise.
The BIDA Chairman acknowledged the role of professional accountants in country’s economic development and assured his support in developing the cost and management accounting profession in Bangladesh. However, the ICMAB President has said that his Institute has been producing highly skilled professional accountants, who can meet country’s entire demand. If this is the case, then it is not understood why our companies are not interested to engage our own professionals instead of foreigners. Are there any other reasons behind?We might have the same experience in other categories where foreigners are usually employed. It is known from reliable sources that majority of those foreigners are engaged at the management levels or technical position in the garment sector. The employers might have some genuine reasons for those appointments. It’s true that our garment industry is not a child; it has already passed a few decades. We know ins and outs of running this industry, the requirements for the present and the future. How it comes that this sector could not produce and replace such levels of professionals by this time? Were not our people who worked with those foreigners for years able to learn?
Perhaps, our foresight as well as sincerity was not so serious to think about it. Even today, if we think our professionals yet lack something to attain the level of those foreigners, can’t we go for any serious planning to meet that? What I understand is that our employers should prefer our own people, if they can fulfil the requirements. In fact, it is a two-way interaction; supply and demand must match each other from all corners.
I have come to know that the Government of Bangladesh took a project in 2011 to enhance the skills of our human resources. There are 7-8 schemes under that project and the Ministry of Finance provides necessary funds to implement those. It is also reported that outcome of those schemes were not satisfactory in all cases, though those were orchestrated with a definite target in mind.
As I do not have much information about the levels and categories as well as targets of those human development schemes, so I am keeping those out my today’s discussion. However, I would expect that our authorities concerned will take, at least, some initiatives to develop local professionals as per our demands so that those foreigners could be replaced. It would not only facilitate employment of our people, but also save huge amount of our hard-earned foreign currency.
At a discussion meeting on our budget last year, former Finance Minister AMA Muhith said that as much as US$5 billion was sent out of Bangladesh every year by foreign nationals working mostly in the export-oriented garment industry. He also mentioned that most of those foreign employees are Indians, Sri Lankans and nationals from other neighbouring countries. But, we know that government agencies concerned have no appropriate statistics of the foreign nationals working in Bangladesh. That’s why it is difficult to say how many foreign nationals are working in Bangladesh, legally or illegally.
Different NGOs have, however, estimated that this number might be around half a million and they are sending more than US$5 billion to their countries annually as remittance. A study conducted by the Centre of Excellence for Bangladesh Apparel Industry in collaboration with the Faculty of Business Studies of Dhaka University, has found some five hundred thousand foreigners are working in Bangladesh and only one-fifth of them are registered with the Bangladesh Investment Development Authority, Bangladesh Export Processing Zones Authority and NGO Affairs Bureau.According to the National Board of Revenue, on an average, about thirteen thousands foreign nationals working in Bangladesh submit their income tax returns each year. Though most of them are from India, but there are people from Pakistan, Sri Lanka, China, South Korea, Taiwan and some countries of the Europe. According to a newspaper report of last year, 4 billion dollars of remittance goes only to India every year. Another source has said that 85,486 foreigners are working in various sectors of Bangladesh, of whom 67,853 are working in their own establishments. Foreigners, in general, are working in various sectors like non-governmental organisations (NGOs), hotels, restaurants, educational institutions, industrial establishments, hospitals, apparel and textile industries, buying houses, telecommunications, information technology, etc. Nonetheless, there are foreign players as well as coaches who are engaged in their respective fields.
If this is the overall scenario, then it is clear that about one third of the remittance we received from our nearly 9 million nationals working abroad flows out of Bangladesh territory every year as the remittance of only half a million foreigners. Mathematically, a foreigner working in Bangladesh, on an average, remits at least US$10,000 per year; whereas, a Bangladeshi migrant, on an average, remits only US$ 1,700-1,800 per year.
Obviously, this is a comparison not between the same levels of employees, as maximum of our migrants are unskilled workers. Therefore, it might not be fair. But, our concern is that the amount of remittance flowing out of our economy is certainly not a small amount. And it is not so much difficult to reduce it significantly if we honestly wish to do that. In fact, it needs commitment and patriotism.
As it is not known how many foreign nationals are working in Bangladesh in different sectors including their own establishments; we have to make sector-wise list of those foreigners at the earliest, irrespective of their legal status. I strongly believe that it is not a difficult job to make a complete list. And that list will not help us for our planning, but for country’s overall security.
While making the list, the following points may be considered: (1) what types of jobs they are performing here; (2) how much money, including salaries and benefits, they are getting from their employers as well as remitting to their countries; (3) duration of their stay or contract period in Bangladesh; (4) their legal status here; (5) whether they submit their income tax returns to Bangladesh authority as per law; (6) how many of them live with their family members in Bangladesh; (7) names and addresses of the Bangladeshi organisations they are working (also specify, in case of their own establishments); (8) personal data of each of the foreign employees; etc.
Our Ministry of Home Affairs should work as the focal point of the whole affairs. Its immigration department could be given the task of preparing the list in collaboration with other authorities or agencies. The followings points might help the preparation of the list: (1) the immigration people have to register outgoing and incoming foreigners at the immigration points; (2) include them in the list as informed by the foreigners themselves or their employers, in case they missed the chance before; (3) collect information through field level search or investigation; (4) collect information from work permit issuing authorities, like Bangladesh Investment Development Authority (BIDA), Bangladesh Export Processing Zones Authority and NGO Affairs Bureau; (5) information received from our missions abroad that issue visa to foreign nationals and (6) information could be collected by the immigration when a foreigner submit passport for renewal of visa. In addition, our concerned authority can also give a circular in the media (or directly to the establishments) asking foreigners and their employers to provide them within a fixed period of time details of the foreign nationals working in Bangladesh.
We might need foreign professionals for certain categories of jobs and it might continue until the creation of an alternative pool of local technical experts. Because those foreign professionals are indispensable to keep our country’s economic wheel running. However, we should not let it go like this always. At one stage, we have to stop the intake of foreign nationals, at least, at such a large number. In any way, we cannot ignore the opportunity of employment for our half a million people and saving of US$5 billion per year for our economy. It is already too expensive.
The writer is former Ambassador and Secretary