DHAKA: The United Arab Emirates has stopped issuing visas to workers from Bangladesh, recruiting companies said Monday, in a move that threatens to strangle vital remittances for the impoverished South Asian country.
The UAE has emerged as the biggest recruiter of Bangladeshi labourers in recent years, accounting for about 50 per cent of all overseas employment opportunities after jobs dwindled in Saudi Arabia.
“Since last week we haven't had any working visas issued from the UAE,” said Shahjalal Majumdar, president of the Bangladesh Association of International Recruiting Agencies (BAIRA).
There has been no official confirmation from the UAE, but Bangladesh's Overseas Employment Minister Khandker Mosharraf Hossain told reporters Sunday that the UAE government had “scaled down” manpower imports from several nations.
Money sent by Bangladesh's more than eight million migrants has been the key driver of its economy ever since the country started sending workers to oil-rich Middle Eastern nations in 1976.
Migrant workers sent home a record $12.85 billion in the fiscal year ended in June this year, accounting for 12 per cent of Bangladesh's gross domestic product, according to official figures.
“We warned the government that too much dependence on a single market could be a big source of vulnerability,” said Tasneem Siddiqui, who heads local think-tank the Refugee and Migratory Movements Research Unit.
“Now that they have stopped recruiting from us it would be disastrous for our economy unless we can find alternative markets as quickly as possible,” she told AFP.
The numbers of Bangladeshis heading to Saudi Arabia slowed sharply after 2009 when the kingdom hired only 14,666 Bangladeshis compared with 258,348 by the UAE, according to government figures.
Saudi officials never explained the reasons but local media alleged that growing replacement of migrant workers with Saudi citizens and souring diplomatic ties with the country's secular government played key roles.
Migration from Bangladesh fell sharply during the 2008-9 global economic downturn as jobs dried up in the Gulf nations and export-oriented Southeast Asia.