Digitalization to Promote Decent Labor Migration in Bangladesh Perspective
Aminul Hoque Tushar

Being an origin country of millions of migrant workers, Bangladesh hurdles to find solutions for promoting decent, safe and orderly migration as well as improving migration governance. Digitalization in service delivery at Pre, peri- and post-migration stage nowadays become essential to protect migrants’ rights. A strong digital migration management platform can help reduce the migration cost and time for recruitment, which often pushes migrant workers in vulnerable situation. Though migrants support services including welfare services, legal assistance and online training services are delivering through digital means in different countries, Bangladesh is yet to materialize the concept. Moreover, the digitalization in overseas recruitment process is a viable means to protect the migrants from any fraudulences as it store important documents-such as job contract, payment slips, training certificates, medical certificates, visa documents etc. and could be useful for dispute resolution if arise.

Access to Information (a2i) is an innovative initiative of Bangladesh to foster the digitalization with the objective to connect Bangladesh with global village and become a shining communication, trade and technological regional hub. To integrate regulatory bodies and ministerial services under the umbrella of one common platform, the government of Bangladesh has been operating ‘Government Service Portal’ (http://services.portal.gov.bd/), where it placed links to all services under ‘Seba Kunjo’ page. Despite of such digital service portal, government with the technical support of different NGOs and development agencies took initiatives to digitalize the migration governance. BMET- the labor migration regulatory body serving the community through digital means including: online registration services as overseas job seekers, online visa checking to prevent fraudulence practices of unscrupulous visa traders and recruiting agencies. However, a mobile application name ‘Visa Jachaii’ developed by Codex Software Solution Ltd. Which is available on Google App store to educate people on visa application process but not providing online services.

To foster the digitalization process, Bangladesh government building partnership with private sectors, has taken a number of initiatives. Hence, with the technical support from SDC, ILO and UNDP, the Ministry of Expatriate Welfare and Overseas Employment developed the Labour Migration Management System (http://www.migration.gov.bd/en) in 2018 which is yet to ready for public service with some limitations. For example, it linked the online grievance management page with BMET old page www.ovijogbmet.org instead of ILO and SDC supported new site http://stage-ilopublic.dnet.org.bd/ComplaineForm. Though older version for online complaints submission site ‘Ovijog BMET’ (developed by RMMRU) is still working, it requires to take actions to keep one which is uniform in nature instead of two or more. However, the newly launched app ‘Probashi Ovijog’ was downloaded only for 500+ times up to 31 December 2020, means failed to draw due attention of public. 

Every year thousands of migrant workers became prey of unscrupulous agencies while agreed with the job offered by RAs and their sub-agents (middlemen or dalal) as the migrants has fewer opportunity to substantiate the job offer or make direct communication with employer. Even in some cases, skill mismatch deprives the workers from retrieving better opportunity. However, the majority of the aspirant and potential migrant workers still depends on the information recited by RAs or sub-agents and certainly believes as there are fewer scope to verify the information. To prevent such derelictions, and to make overseas employment accountable and dignified to workers, private sectors started to serve migrants through a mobile application based service called ‘Bdeshjaatra’ (developed by bdjobs.com with the technical support from PROTTASHA project of EU and IOM) as well as site for overseas vacancy (https://bdesh.bdjobs.com/default.asp) announcement. Since the ‘Bdeshjaatra app’ categorically linked the users with different services and educating on safe and secure migration by disseminating information on pre, peri and post migration, it yet to reach the majority of target groups. For example, up to 31 December 2020, the app has been downloaded only for 500+ times. Inexplicably, a gap still remain among International recruiting agencies, employers and initiator which intermitting the process on regularization of publishing international vacancy announcement. Up to 31 December 2020, on ‘bdjobs.com’ there were only 40 vacancies for overseas workers, which is disappointing in a sense.

Educating aspirant migrants on pre, peri and post migration ‘DOs and DON’Ts’ and ‘Access to Services’ via online platform became popular recent days, and hence become essential for Bangladesh to reach maximum people. Government alone with different NGOs also started operating online PDT (Pre-departure training) and skills training including the Housekeeping for female migrants. Muktopaath developed by Orangebd for government of Bangladesh - an online and Mobile application based training and education platform also offer some online courses for outbound migrant workers. There is a finely planned PDT sessions on Muktopaath, through which outbound migrants could learn a lot about destination countries and regarding their legal rights. Despite the online site, the ‘Muktopaath app’ has the upward popularity trends as 100K+ times download done so far. Another app called ‘Bibhui’ developed by IID- which educate the migrants to take analytical and realistic decision for safe and secure migration, also downloaded 10K+ times from app store. In a contrary, the app ‘Bdeshjaatra’ possess similar education services like ‘Bubhui’ needs to bridge to avoid misinterpretation of any migration related information.

Apart from lodging complaints to BMET against unscrupulous Recruiting agencies or sub-agents, the government has other similar platform as well. There is a separate online complaints system for Wage Earners Welfare Board (WEWB) where migrant and their families could file a complaints. Though there are opportunities within the existing government online services to seek help from police through Police Expatriate Help Cell (https://www.police.gov.bd/en/expatriate_help_cell), yet majority of the migrants acknowledge on the existence of the service and truly avoiding police to lodge compliant except filing cases. Similarly, migrants are not well educated or briefed on online application to access legal aid support from NLSO and to protect them from any fraudulence activities.

In case of access to online welfare services, the Wage Earners Welfare Board also started to register migrants through online (http://member.wewb.gov.bd/wewbm/createnewMemberHomeAll), which is yet to reach the vast population. Apart from this, Expatriate Welfare Bank or PKB has the online system to apply for rehabilitation and migration loan, on which fewer migrants retain ideas or have been educated. Information or online services relating safe remittance transfer with transfer charges and other attractive packages are also not available on app store from Bangladesh end. Moreover, other unfamiliar applications like: BMET INFO (1,000 download) and BOESL app (10K+ download) are also available in app store, which are outdated and yet not integrated in national web portal.

Union Digital Centers (UDC) is the hallmark achievement of the governments Digital Bangladesh vision, which are providing all public and private services to rural citizens. There are 4,500+ UDCs across the country covering utmost rural areas to ensure access to information and public & private services via online. These UDC has the potentiality to become a hub for migrants to receive services as well as information as it serves 3.20 million people on each month. Hence, capacitate 9,100+ UDC entrepreneurs on providing migration related services are essential. If the existing online services remain discrete, it will be challenging for migrants to access authentic information as well as protecting own rights. Apart from this, digital education becomes mandatory at grassroots level to leverage the efficiency of government services, on which we need to focus. However, in true sense, Bangladesh government made significant advancement in digitization of migration governance as well as simplifying support services though there are some inconsistencies. Overlapping of similar service delivery system, online platforms or mobile Applications and outdated of such digital platforms due to lack of coordination and budget let not serve the target community as expected. Hence, we should welcome partnership based technical initiatives both from government and private sectors end to foster the digitalization process and ensure profitable and secure labor migration. 

 Aminul Hoque Tushar is Migration Analyst and Development Activist

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