Foreign investors, especially those from Japan, feel discouraged to come to Bangladesh as they are reportedly having to go through a lengthy immigration process that even takes 3-4 hours at times at the Hazrat Shahjalal International Airport in Dhaka.
"Long queues are often observed at the immigration counters of the Hazrat Shahjalal International Airport. Sometimes, it even takes 3-4 hours to complete the immigration process," Yuji Ando, country representative at Japan External Trade Organisation (Jetro), said in an inter-ministerial meeting last month.
If the immigration system improves, it will give a positive signal to investors, he said.
The meeting was chaired by Bangladesh Investment Development Authority (Bida) Executive Chairman Sirazul Islam last month.
An airport is the gateway to a country. Quick and trouble-free services at the airport create a positive image of a country. The airport acts as a catalyst to attract foreigners to a country for travel, tourism, business and investment, Yuji pointed out.
Last year at the Japan-Bangladesh Public-Private Economic Dialogue in the Prime Minister's Office also, Japanese investors expressed their frustration with the long delay at immigration.
At a recent digital seminar on banking support for Bangladesh-Japan trade and business growth, Japanese Ambassador to Bangladesh ITO Naoki said the companies of his country are looking at Bangladesh as a new frontier of investment in Asia.
But one of the outstanding issues in bringing ease of doing business in Bangladesh is the known restrictive use of telegraphic transfer in settling import transactions, he added.
As part of its measures to woo investments in Bangladesh, Bida provides foreign investors with a range of services at airports – assisting in completing immigration process and hotel booking, transport arrangement, and drawing up an itinerary as per their needs.
To this end, Bida set up a help desk at the airport, but the service is now limping because of a manpower shortage.
"Only one employee has been assigned to this task and he cannot work 24 hours," reads the minutes of the inter-ministerial meeting.
The meeting suggested that an initiative be taken to man this desk with the assistance of the Bangladesh Economic Zones Authority, the Bangladesh Export Processing Zone Authority, the Bangladesh Hi-Tech Park Authority and the Public-Private Partnership Authority.
Bida will coordinate with the agencies to provide foreign investors with welcoming services at the airport.
Yoshinori Goto, assistant project manager at the Aviation Dhaka Consortium, said the existing airport facilities can be optimised and upgraded if vacant posts of immigration officers are filled and the number of dedicated lanes for investors is increased.
The manual immigration process takes 5-10 minutes per passenger in normal cases and the time increases if there is any special issue. Immigration officers can be trained up for their efficiency enhancement, he also said.
Automated border control systems or e-gates have been installed at the Dhaka airport, but these machines are not working yet. Once these are in service, the immigration process will speed up, Goto added.
He noted that a payment-based automated border control system can be introduced for foreign investors.
Goto also proposed resuming the visa-on-arrival facility for duly-vaccinated investors.
The Bida executive chairman said in the meeting that the issues related to immigration process are significantly connected to ensuring an investor-friendly business environment and ease of doing business.
The two existing international terminals of Hazrat Shahjalal International Airport cannot serve the increased number of passengers and transportation of goods. That is why the government has taken steps to construct a third terminal to enhance the airport's capacity.
If the existing facilities improve, foreign investors will have hassle-free services.
AHM Touhidul Ahsan, executive director at Hazrat Shahjalal International Airport, said there are 48 counters for providing immigration services and appointing immigration officers and managing queues or waiting lines is the responsibility of the Immigration Department.
A dedicated immigration counter for foreign investors can be arranged if such a proposal is sent to the Civil Aviation Authority of Bangladesh (CAAB), he said.
There are now only 55 immigration officers at the Dhaka airport and they work eight hours by rotation, he added.
Md Shahriar, deputy secretary to the Security Services Division, said they will actively consider fast-tracking immigration procedures. Travellers with e-passports will pass immigration using electronic gates when the system is activated.
To remove hassle at immigration for foreign investors, Bida will request the foreign ministry to resume the visa-on-arrival facility for investors and business persons possessing PI, B, E and E1 visas. A request will be sent to the ministry to reduce the time of issuing visas on arrival, according to the meeting minutes.
Besides, Bida will propose that CAAB allocate four exclusive immigration counters at the third terminal of the Dhaka airport and a dedicated immigration counter at first and second terminals for foreign investors.
The meeting decided that the Security Services Division will fill up all vacant positions of immigration officers and will take necessary action to introduce a multichannel horizontal line queue system in place of single-line single-channel system to fast-track the immigration procedures.