On average, around 6-7 lakh Bangladeshi workers have migrated abroad every year, except in 2020 – which was hit hard by Covid-19, in the last decade.
Nearly half of these Bangladeshi migrants were from 10 districts in Dhaka and Chattogram divisions, thanks to strong networks of migrants from these areas, said people involved in this sector.
People from the country's northern districts, Khulna, Rangamati, Khagrachhari, and Bandarban lagged behind in seizing overseas job opportunities.
When Bangladesh started exporting manpower in the mid-1970s, people from Chattogram and Dhaka grabbed most of the job opportunities. Once they were abroad and gathered experience, they played a significant role in employing more people from their respective areas, said Dr Tasneem Siddiqui, founding chair of the Refugee and Migratory Movements Research Unit (RMMRU).
"The early migrators brought their acquaintances abroad later. Thus a strong network has been formed in these districts," said Dr Tasneem Siddiqui.
Terming networks "a powerful factor," he said, "Personal networks work very well outside the recruiting agencies when it comes to immigration. Many migrants often manage visas for their relatives from employers personally."
According to the Bureau of Manpower, Employment and Training (BMET), 91.92 lakh Bangladeshis were employed from 2005 to 2020 in different countries.
Among them, 45.04 lakh – around 49% – were employed from 10 districts. The remaining 46.88 lakh were employed from the rest of the districts across the country.
During the period, Cumilla secured the top position with 9.64 lakh migrant workers. It was followed by Chattogram with 7.26 lakh migrant workers, Brahmanbaria with 4.93 lakh, Tangailwith 4.43 lakh, and Dhaka with 4.04 lakh, Chandpur with 3.67 lakh, Noakhali with 3.49 lakh, Narshingdi with 2.6 lakh, Munshiganj with 2.59 lakh and Feni with 2.32 lakh.
Only 16 districts, including the top ten, have sent more than two lakh workers abroad.
"Many people from the districts with a high number of migrants have no intention of working inside the country. They try to migrate as soon as they get a chance. They developed this tendency by watching their ancestors," Migration experts Asif Munier told The Business Standard.
He said often a pattern develops in the areas from which people migrate.
"People in Sylhet have been going to Europe since the 1940s. Imagine, someone who used to work on a ship went to Britain. Once he settled there, his relatives migrated with his help. This is a long-running trend," said Asif Munier.
He further said such a pattern has not developed in the northern districts, so people from these areas do not show a strong tendency to migrate.
"There is no economic factor here. People of these areas (North Bengal) do not consider going abroad an option. They want to work inside the country," he added.
Among the northern districts, Bogura and Pabna are comparatively ahead of other districts in Rajshahi and Rangpur division. They sent more than one lakh migrant workers abroad from 2005 to 2020.
The 10 districts with the least number of migrants are – Rangamati, Panchagarh, Lalmonirhat, Khagrachhari, Thakurgaon, Nilphamari, Sherpur, Kurigram, Joypurhat and Dinajpur.
Abul Bashar, former president of Bangladesh Association of International Recruiting Agencies (Baira), said, "There is a common notion that if you want to go abroad, you have to sell your land. Agriculture is good in the north. So, historically they have not shown much interest in migrating."
Mentioning that the cost of migration has come down recently, he said, "We want more people to come from the areas, including North Bengal, which lag behind in migration. Previously, there were very few recruiters in these areas. Currently, more agencies are working in Rajshahi and Khulna regions and more people are migrating from these areas."
Asif Munier said, "The motto of the Sustainable Development Goals is that no one will be left behind. So the government is trying to improve the number of migrants in districts, including in the Chattogram hill tracts, that are lagging behind."
However this is not enough as people have to show interest and see that people around them are migrating, he added.
Some 6.17 lakh Bangladeshis were employed in various countries in 2021, while the number of new recruits in 2019, the pre-pandemic year, stood at more than seven lakh. With Covid restrictions in force, overseas jobs declined to 2.17 lakh in 2020, according to the BMET.
Before the onset of the pandemic, around 60,000-65,000 Bangladeshis used to migrate every month, mostly to the Middle Eastern countries.
Saudi Arabia, the top destination for Bangladeshi migrants, generated 74% of all overseas jobs last year, followed by Oman, UAE, Singapore, Jordan and Qatar.
More than 1.38 crore Bangladeshis have been employed in different countries of the world since 1976, according to BMET.