Migrant workers get a ticket to a better life

Ticket To Better Life
Through an automated application process, qualified young men and women are being better matched to appropriate jobs as migrant workers. Photo: UNDP Bangladesh

Ashikur Rahman (36) dreamed of going to abroad to work, but that dream ended badly when just over 4 years ago, he along with a friend paid Tk 200,000 to a recruiting agency. After a few months they learned that the agency had shut down and their money was lost. Late last year when the government announced that a worker recruitment drive for Malaysia was starting on the basis of a bilateral agreement between the two countries, Ashikur had all but given up hope, knowing he didn’t have the kind of money that would permit a second chance.

“I first heard about the online registration programme through advertisements by the local UISC. After having lost all my money the first time around I was wary about the process,” said Ashikur. Then he heard what the registration was going to cost him Tk 50 (less than a dollar) and if his name came up in a lottery, it would cost him the official rate: Tk 34,000 (US$424). “I honestly didn’t think it would cost Tk 50 only. But then I went there and I realized that this was real, for only fifty takas I could register for an overseas job!” he said, standing by the Union Information Service Centre (UISC) of Baragachi in Rajshahi.

Mr. Rahman is among 1.4 million people who registered at various UISCs across the country, to take their chances for the opportunity that could change their lives and the fortunes of their family.

Highlights

  • Improved culture of transparent service-oriented public service delivery.
  • 4516 UISCs set up around the country using a public private partnership.
  • E-services help 4 million users per month.

In Bangladesh, the traditional route to finding work abroad has been restrictive for marginalised communities. For one, the entire process was not transparent and very reliant on unscrupulous recruiters who charged astronomical fees in absence of much official oversight, which meant one had to be fairly well off in a rural context to be able to pay the fees.  Secondly recruitment was often on the basis of kinship – and thus concentrated in districts where previous migrants had originated.

Sadly, many families who sold their land to send a son abroad, in the past, discovered that they were cheated as Ashikur was, or worse still had sent their son into a life of slavery and menial labour with no guaranteed employment.

Eliminating these injustices was where the UNDP’s Access to Information (A2I) project and the Ministry of Expatriate Welfare saw a possibility of a strategic partnership. The collaboration saw a standardised registration process that harnessed the Union Information Service Centres established by A2i at the 4,545 lowest administrative tiers of the country. As a result, anyone could register for the 30,000 jobs that the Malaysian government was offering to migrant Bangladeshis for a fee that varied between Tk 30 - 50. All they had to do was go to their local UISC and apply – and the winners would be decided through an automated lottery.

“By adopting an efficient and transparent process, this initiative has not only brought back people’s trust on BMET, but also transformed the way we deliver one of our key services” says Ms. Shamsun Nahar, Director General of Bureau Manpower, Employment and Training, the government agency mandated to meet the manpower requirement of the country and for export as well in line with the ILO Convention 87, 88, 96 and 97.

Anir Chowdhury, Policy Advisor, says “A2I’s core objective is to bring public services to the door-step of citizens. From that perspective UISCs are the corner-stone of our strategy to achieve that objective. A UISC, located within 2km of most homes in rural Bangladesh, effectively brings a large chunk of the service delivery machinery within the reach of the rural Bangladesh citizen. Hence, this is also the key step forward for a complete overhaul of lengthy, inefficient, and inconvenient traditional delivery mechanism.”

KAM Morshed, UNDP, Assistant Country Director stressed the importance of a collaborative effort when talking about the project and its success, “The UISC initiative truly represents the strength of partnership that the A2I could mobilize.  It needed more than A2I’s core partners i.e. the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO), Cabinet Division, USAID and UNDP, to lend their hands. From the government’s side Local Government Division, and Ministry of ICT offered generous guidance. Several other development projects such as Local Government Support (LGSP), Urban Partnership for Poverty Reduction (UPPR), Comprehensive Disaster Management (CDMP) and private sector actors such as Banglalink, several private commercial banks, insurance companies, and a host of NGOs offered substantial help.”

The process of registering for overseas jobs was and in many places continues to be inefficient and inconvenient seemingly sending the same people abroad over and over again. Those that are left out of such a process inevitably get stuck in an exclusionary cycle of poverty. The new online process of registration is meant to break that cycle and include those people who previously never even stood a chance to go abroad and with 1.4 million people signing up already it clearly goes to show that it has been successful.

Naimuzzaman Mukta, the project lead for the UISC initiative and coordinator of the registration task team, pointed out that, “Aspirants are required to pay as little as Tk.34,000 (little over US$400). This coupled with the availability of concessional credit facility from the Expatriate Welfare Bank enabled even the most financially challenged segments of rural communities to vie for a chance. Indeed, 13 among the 72 who have already left the country in the first batch used the credit facility to fulfil their dream.”

Ashikur emerged from the Baragachi UISC smiling like he had already won the lottery. “That was easy. Much easier than I expected. I have been through a lot to go abroad and no matter what happens in the lottery (after registration to select those who will go abroad) this time around I am happy that the process was so easy.”

He continued, “I may never get the Tk 200,000 I paid, but this process gives me hope. It was fast, easy, inexpensive and maybe if I am lucky I’ll be selected to go abroad. But even if that does not happen I have no regrets, my name is their database, maybe next time I’ll get lucky or the time after that. After a long time I now have hope.”​