Clouds over Singapore job market for Bangladeshis

THE recent reduction in the number of work visas issued by Singapore for Bangladeshis is indeed worrying. There were, as New Age reported on Saturday quoting officials and private recruiters, even some cases, in which the issuance of work visas for Bangladeshis, who passed their skills training examinations conducted by a government agency of Singapore, was suspended. The agency is a statutory board under the national development ministry of Singapore which regulates the country’s building and construction industry. It has been recruiting workers from Bangladesh, as Bureau of Manpower, Employment and Training officials here said, after completing skills training of the workers at centers run under its direct supervision for many years. What is more ominous is that the suspension of work visas reportedly had a connection with Singapore’s fears that some Bangladeshis in the country has involvement with Islamist militant outfits. This is all the more so as it certainly has implications for other overseas job markets for Bangladeshis as well. Singapore’s home ministry issued a release on January 20, saying that 27 Bangladeshi workers had been arrested there in November 16–December 1, 2015 on charge of being involved with al-Qaeda and the Islamic State. Besides, 26 of them were deported to Bangladesh.
Singapore, which is a major destination of Bangladeshi workers, has employed more than six lakh Bangladeshis since 1978. According to BMET statistics, Singapore issued 60,000 work visas to Bangladeshis in 2013 and the figure came down to 55,000 in 2015.  Meanwhile, 4,520 workers from Bangladesh went to Singapore in January but the figure was 2,663 till February 22. There are reasons to fear that if the decline continues, it may hit hard remittance earnings that greatly contribute to the national economy of Bangladesh and its fight against poverty. Overseas jobs also play a great role in easing unemployment, which has recently been on the increase for some reasons, including the flawed economic policy of the incumbents. It is important to note that the issue at hand came at a time when many job markets, especially in Malaysia, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and some other West Asian countries, have remained closed, in either full or part, to Bangladeshis for a few years for the failure, diplomatic and otherwise, of the incumbent government.
It is welcome that the Prime Minister’s Office in an official note recently advised the expatriates welfare and overseas employment affairs minister to take up the issue with his counterpart in Singapore and inform the latter of the steps that Bangladesh has already taken on militancy issues. The minister has, accordingly, already visited Singapore and discussed the issue with relevant government functionaries there. However, the government needs to realise that if it fails to come out of its apparent tendency to gloss over the militancy problem, despite repeated concerns of different international agencies, including the Singapore government, about the issue in recent times, all this may fail to make the expected difference.

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