- The UAE seeks Covid test report received within 6 hours before departure
- 40,000-50,000 UAE migrants are unable to return to work
- The UAE has around 12 lakh Bangladeshi workers, the second highest after Saudi Arabia
- Visas of many migrants have expired
Inward foreign remittance is likely to decline further if thousands of migrant workers cannot fly back to the United Arab Emirates to rejoin work for the lack of RT PCR labs at international airports in the country.
About 40,000-50,000 migrants are stuck here because the destination country seeks a report of a Covid test done within six hours before travellers have boarded their flights.
Many of them have got their visas expired while some worry that they may lose their jobs if they cannot reach the UAE in time.
This is the backdrop to stranded returnees having gone on fast unto death in front of the Expatriates' Welfare and Overseas Employment Ministry at Eskaton in the capital on Tuesday, demanding setting up of a Covid testing facility at every international airport.
The UAE, according to an unofficial estimate, has around 12 lakh Bangladeshi workers, the second highest after Saudi Arabia.
They sent home nearly $2440 million in the last fiscal year, which was the 3rd highest country-wise inward remittance.
Asif Munier, a migration expert told TBS, "We have been observing mismanagement in handling the migration process of stranded migrants amid the pandemic. Earlier, the returnees have demonstrated over tickets, vaccine and quarantine fees. Now, they are struggling for RT PCR test facilities."
Though these are temporary problems, they have long lasting negative impacts on remittance.
Meanwhile, at a cabinet meeting on 6 September, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina instructed the authorities concerned to install RT-PCR testing facilities at the international airports in Dhaka, Chattogram, and Sylhet within the next two to three days.
Expatriate Welfare and Overseas Employment Minister Imran Ahmed could not say even on Tuesday as to when PCR tests will begin at the airports.
At a press briefing, he said the authority would decide who would get the job by the end of the day.
One or more companies from the private healthcare sector may get the job. The health ministry will make the decision. The company selection will depend on how fast results are turned up after tests and low cost.
The selected company or companies will inform when to roll out the PCR testing facility, said the overseas employment minister.
Woes of migrants
To hold a demonstration on Tuesday morning, 100 agitated expatriates gathered in front of the expatriates' welfare ministry.
Md Giasuddin from Gazipur said the situation had become unbearable for those unable to return to their workplaces.
"I have been in the country for nearly nine months. I had to borrow over Tk4 lakh to cover the expenses of my family."
Gias lamented the delay in setting up PCR labs despite assurances while migrants are at risk of losing jobs.
"My visa expiry date is getting closer. I bought a ticket to the UAE in June. That expired already," he said.
Another returnee, Ashiqul Islam Shohag awaits his departure to Abu Dhabi.
He complained that migrants were unable to return though the UAE government had eased travel restrictions.
A group of returnees from the demonstration went to attend a meeting with Minister Imran Ahmed at his office.
One of them, Salah Uddin told The Business Standard that they wanted a specific deadline, by which the testing facility would become available.
"The minister assured us that the deadline will be set by Wednesday. That is why we decided to call off the hunger strike for now," he added.
The UAE suspended flights from Bangladesh, India and Pakistan in April amid a spike in COVID cases due to the Delta variant.
On Friday, it relaxed certain rules so that its residents can return including those stuck in Bangladesh, reports Khaleej Times.
However, passengers must produce a Covid test result received within six hours of departure.
The inflow of remittance from expatriate Bangladeshis, which maintained an upward trend throughout the last fiscal year amid the pandemic, dropped by 19% year-on-year in the first two months of the current fiscal year.