Saudi Arabia is lifting a seven-year-old ban on the recruitment of blue-collar workers from Bangladesh. Before the 2008 immigration ban, about 150,000 Bangladeshis arrived in the Kingdom each year, taking up largely low-paying jobs in the agricultural, construction and service sectors.
The more than two million Bangladeshi workers now living in Saudi Arabia make up a key revenue source for their families back home, who reel in about $3.7 billion a year in remittances from the Gulf Kingdom. But once the ban took effect, the flow of migrants trickled to around ten thousand a year.
Bangladeshi officials applauded the policy change.
“It is a big achievement for Bangladesh as we have been pursuing his for long,” Md. Shahidul Haque, the nation’s foreign secretary, told a local paper.
“The re-launch of the recruitment of manpower from Bangladesh will ensure that the labor relations of the two countries will be further strengthened,” the nation’s ambassador to Saudi Arabia told Arab News, adding that it marked "a major milestone in the diplomatic relations between the two countries."
Officially, Saudi Arabia put the ban in place to equalize the flow of migrants from Bangladesh with those of other major sources of immigration like India and Pakistan. But observers suspect political pressures were behind the decision.
Saudi officials were said to have frowned on Bangladesh’s crackdown on Jamaat-e-Islami, an Islamist group that counts wealthy Saudis among its backers. In 2010, the South Asian nation launched a special tribunal to investigate abuses during its 1971 war of independence with Pakistan. That tribunal eventually sentenced to death several leading Jamaat-e-Islami officials and Islamists.
In Saudi Arabia, working-class Bangladeshis are often associated with crime. A few high-profile cases helped to fuel the perception: In 2011, eight workers from Bangladesh were publicly beheaded for allegedly robbing a warehouse and killing a security guard. Migrants have also been accused of more petty crimes like selling pirated CDs, stealing electricity and printing fake currency.
The two nations will work out the details of the renewed immigration procedures later this month.