Bangladesh can reap great benefits from Germany's requirement of four lakh skilled foreign workers each year if authorities can ensure that the European country's labour market opens for Bangladeshi workers in the coming months.
Though there is no formal labour recruitment agreement between the countries at present, the Bangladesh embassy in Germany said that they were trying to sign a government to government (G2G) deal to leverage the European labour market.
Germany's new coalition government wants to recruit 4 lakh qualified workers from abroad each year to tackle both the demographic imbalance and the labour shortages in key sectors that risk undermining the recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic, reports Reuters on 21 January.
"Germany is suffering from a skilled labour shortage, especially nurses, caregivers and staffers for the hospitality (hotels, restaurants) sector. We will learn more about the sectors which need workers in the coming weeks," Md Mosharraf Hossain Bhuiyan, ambassador of Bangladesh to Germany told The Business Standard.
"I have already discussed with our foreign ministry and ex-pat ministry on the issue. According to their instructions, we are trying to negotiate with the German ministries concerned to open a formal labour recruitment process," he added.
He said that due to the rising Covid-19 cases, the process has become slower now in the country.
The German Economic Institute estimates that the labour force will shrink by more than three lakhs this year as more old workers are retiring now in contrast with younger ones entering the labour market.
This gap is expected to widen to more than 6.5 lakhs in 2029, leaving an accumulated shortage of people of working age in 2030 by roughly 5 million. The number of Germans in employment grew to nearly 45 million last year despite the pandemic.
After decades of low birth rates and uneven migration, a shrinking labour force also poses a demographic time bomb for Germany's public pension system, in which fewer employees are burdened with the task of financing the pensions of a growing mass of retirees who are enjoying longer life expectancy.
"The shortage of skilled workers has become so serious by now that it is dramatically slowing down our economy," Christian Duerr, parliamentary leader of the co-governing Free Democrats (FDP), told business magazine WirtschaftsWoche.
"We can only get the problem of an ageing workforce under control with a modern immigration policy. We have to reach the mark of 4,00,000 skilled workers from abroad as quickly as possible," Duerr added.
Chancellor Olaf Scholz's Social Democrats, Duerr's libertarian FDP and the environmentalist Greens agreed in their coalition deal on measures like a points system for specialists from countries outside the European Union and lifting the national minimum wage to 12 euros ($13.60) per hour to make working in Germany more attractive. Currently, around 20,000 Bangladeshis live in Germany, according to an unofficial estimate.
"We have been demanding for years to our embassies to make the process faster to open the formal recruitment in Germany as many Bangladeshi take part in perilous journeys to Europe through Sea routes. But we have not seen enough initiatives," Dr Maruf Mallik, a Bangladeshi researcher who is living in Germany for a decade, told The Business Standard.
"The number of Bangladeshis entering Germany through irregular routes is not more than 500 each year. Most of the odd jobs are performed by irregular migrant workers in Germany and other neighbouring countries. While regular workers get 9.60 euros per hour in Germany, irregular ones get only 6-7 euros," he added.
According to available data until 2016, nearly 2,50,000 Bangladeshi immigrants are living in different EU countries, while 80,000 are staying illegally and more are still arriving.
Of the 7.5 lakh people, who sought asylum in Europe in 2019, some 13,190 applications were from Bangladeshis, reports Deutsche Welle.
EU puts pressure on Bangladesh to take back irregular workers
Bangladesh has signed Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) with the EU on the return of Bangladeshi migrants with no right to stay in the EU member countries in 2017.
The European Commission has proposed to establish temporary restrictive measures on short-stay visas against applicants who are citizens of Bangladesh, Iraq, and The Gambia this year if the countries do not co-operate under the SOPs.
"We might face visa restrictions if we don't follow it," Bangladesh's ambassador in Berlin, Mosharraf Hossain Bhuiyan said.
We have received requests for issuing travel documents for 816 people from the German authority since the SOPs were signed. Many of them have already left Germany, he added.
He mentioned that the deportation of irregular Bangladeshi migrants slowed down due to the coronavirus pandemic, and only a small number of people were sent back by the German authorities in the past years.
However, the migration experts are critical of the position of the EU as most countries are allowing irregular workers to enter, but not hiring workers through legal channels.
"European countries have a demand for migrant workers especially in agriculture and the service sector. But they are not hiring workers from Bangladesh through legal channels," said Dr CR Abrar, a Dhaka University professor on international relations.
"On the other hand, thousands of Bangladeshis try to enter Europe through the perilous journey on the Mediterranean each year and Europe is allowing these irregular migrants. Occasionally, they give legality for a certain period to these workers as they can utilize them with comparatively low salary," he added.
Asylum applications continue to shrink in Germany
Statistics of asylum applications published by The German Federal Office for Migration and Refugees (BAMF), shows a sharp decline of such applications by Bangladeshi citizens ever since the SOPs was signed between the South-Asian nation and the EU.
While 571 Bangladeshi citizens applied for asylum in Germany in 2017, only 189 of such applications were filed in 2020.
Last year, 88 asylum applications from Bangladesh were registered in Germany between January 1 and September 30. The overall protection rate in this period was 6.1 %, according to the statistics.
According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the number of Bangladeshis was the highest among the people who took risky journeys to cross the Mediterranean Sea and land routes to reach Europe in the first six months of the last year.
As per the estimate, from January to June 2021, the number of Bangladeshi nationals reaching Europe through the illegal routes was 3,332, which is 14.5% of the total migration aspirants to Europe.