New opportunities open for Bangladeshi youths who aspire to go to work in Europe as two European countries, Italy and Greece, are poised to hire workers from here this year.
Italy has already opened 69,700 positions for workers from 31 non-European countries, including Bangladesh, in "seasonal" and "non-seasonal" categories in the sectors of farming, road transport, construction, and tourism/hospitality for the year 2022. The country on 27 January launched receiving applications from the employers in this regard, which will continue until 17 March, according to a circular of the Bangladesh Embassy in Rome.
On the other hand, Greece is expected to sign a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with Bangladesh very soon to recruit workers. The two countries in November last signed a letter of interest on safe migration to the Mediterranean country.
In January this year, Italy opened its work visa scheme for 2022 under its "Decreto Flussi" (loosely translated as "flows decree" i.e. an annual quota of how many people can enter the country from outside the European Economic Area (EEA) to work) with an announcement of the opening date for submission of application for Italy work visa applications 2022 for both seasonal and non-seasonal workers.
This year, the Italian government has allocated 42,000 work permits for temporary seasonal workers, according to Italy's Ministry of Labour and Social Policies, reports The Local, an English-language news network in Europe. Of these, 14,000 are for agricultural workers.
Another 27,000 permits are available for those on "non-seasonal contracts" (employees) and self-employed workers, 20,000 of which are for people employed in road transport, construction and tourism-hotel sectors.
The validity of seasonal visas will be maximum nine months and the non-seasonal ones will be two years with a provision for extension.
Contacted, Md Arfanul Haque, first secretary of Bangladesh embassy in Rome, told The Business Standard, "The recruitment process under flows decree takes place through direct communication between the Italian employers and the interested workers. The embassy has no role to play in this respect."
He, however, said there is no specific quota for any country.
Under the farm workers programme, migrants mainly work at the field level to cultivate vegetables, fruits, crops etc, he mentioned.
A person working in gardening, farming and fishing in Italy usually earns around 2,200 euros per month. Salaries range from minimum 920 euros to maximum 5,430 euros, he added.
Applications opened on 27 January for self-employed workers, employers of non-seasonal workers, and those converting an existing residency permit. Seasonal workers can apply from 1 February. The application can only be filed online in the Italian interior ministry's website.
Around 1.45 lakh documented Bangladeshi are currently working in Italy, according to the Bangladesh Embassy in Rome.
However, the number is around two lakh, when the undocumented ones are included.
Brokers still a big issue
Italy has reopened doors for farm workers from Bangladesh after eight years of closure in 2020.
Under the farm workers programme, a worker has to stay for 6-9 months in Italy during a season to work in an agriculture farm and then has to get back to the home country.
But, many Bangladeshi farm workers violated this condition by not returning home after each season, prompting Italy to strip Bangladesh of this privilege in 2012.
The workers, it is reported, did not return as they, in such a short period, could not earn a sufficient amount of money as compared to what they had paid to middlemen for acquiring the work permit.
Nonetheless, after the government of Italy reopened the market on 12 October 2020, around 653 Bangladeshis got jobs in Italy last year as the country recruited some 30,000 foreign workers under flows decree in the year, according to the Bureau of Manpower, Employment and Training (BMET).
Abul Bashar, former president of the Bangladesh Association of International Recruiting Agencies (BAIRA), told TBS, "Brokers are always active to tempt aspiring migrants who want to go to Italy under the farm workers programme. Allegations run rife that they are illegally taking Tk10-12 lakh from each interested person for sending them to Italy."
"But people should not pay to middlemen for such migration. They should contact Bangladesh Overseas Employment and Services (BOESL) as private recruiters are not allowed to send workers under the process," he added.
Mohammad Alam Hossain, deputy general manager (Business Promotion), BOESL, told TBS, "In Italy, foreign workers are recruited through direct contact between the employer and the employee. But we are making efforts so that we can send workers after communicating with the employers. "
He said that no significant progress has been made as yet in matters including fixing the service charge.
Asked about the migration cost in this case, Md Arfanul Haque of the Bangladesh embassy in Rome told TBS that there is no cost other than the airfare. The price of a plane ticket from Dhaka to Italy is about Tk55,000-65,000."
People concerned said there is little scope for the migration cost to go past Tk1 lakh.
The Ministry of Expatriates' Welfare and Overseas Employment, and the Bangladesh Embassy in Italy have undertaken various awareness programmes through advertisements on media and distribution of leaflets so that no one falls into the trap of brokers.
How workers can go to Italy
The Bangladesh embassy in Rome has issued some directives for Italy-bound aspirant workers recently.
First, an employer in Italy will have to apply from their designated email address for a no-objection certificate (NOC) from the local administrative office (Prefettura) by mentioning their names, passport numbers and other relevant information of the person they want to hire.
After obtaining the NOC, they will send it to the aspirant workers.
The aspirants then will apply to the Italian embassy in Dhaka for a visa, attaching the NOC to it.
Afterwards, a worker, arriving in Italy with a visa, will go to the local administrative office with the employer and sign an employment contract.
At the time of application submission in this process, the employer will need to pay 16 euros (not more than Tk1,600) for the government-prescribed revenue stamp.
Those who will rely on the help desk for the application submission may have to pay an extra fee of up to 50-100 euros. There is no other cost in submitting the application.
The relevant authorities will sort applications and select the eligible ones. Separate NOCs will then be issued in favour of eligible applicants.
Upon receipt of the NOC, aspirant workers must submit a visa application to the Italian embassy in respective countries.
Greek labour market to open soon
The government of Greece amended its law on foreign workers in September last year to issue five-year visas to meet the huge demand for migrant workers in the agriculture, tourism, ready-made garment and other sectors in the country.
With this, employment opportunities have been created for migrant workers there.
Bishwagith Paul, first secretary at the Bangladesh Embassy in Athens, told TBS that Greece needs seasonal workers in agriculture as well as in the tourism/hospitality sector.
"We are working to sign a MoU between the both countries very soon."
Around 80,000 Bangladeshis are currently living in Greece, according to an unofficial estimate.