77% Bangladeshi returnee migrants struggling to find jobs

Dhaka, May 9 – Around 77% of the returnee migrants in Bangladesh were struggling to find jobs between April and November last year because of Covid-19 pandemic, says a study. Among the migrant households with returnees, 61% had at least one member who lost a job or earning opportunity during the pandemic.
More than three-fourth (77%) of the marriages that took place in households during the survey period had brides who were under the age of 18, which is 26% higher than the national rate of child marriage (51%) in 2018.
Child marriages were found to be more prevalent in rural areas (81%) than in urban locations (70%).
These are the outcomes of research jointly conducted by BRAC, UN WOMEN Bangladesh and the Center on International Cooperation at New York University.
The research looks into the changes in demographic, economic, and social environments in secondary towns, peri-urban (Upazila), and rural areas brought on by the reverse migrations during the Covid-19 pandemic.
The findings of the research titled “Demographic and socio-economic changes induced by the Covid-19 pandemic: Challenges of new circumstances” was unveiled at a virtual policy dialogue on Saturday.
A panel of distinguished experts, academics, policymakers, and development professionals shared their valuable insights at the dialogue.
They also discussed the policy priority areas identified by the study findings and the way forward.
Dr. Shamsul Alam, Member (Senior Secretary), General Economics Division, Planning Commission, attended the dialogue as the chief guest.
Representatives from the Ministry of Expatriate Welfare and Overseas Employment, the Ministry of Women and Children Affairs, South Asian Network on Economic Modelling (SANEM), Dhaka University, the Center on International Cooperation at New York University, UN Women Bangladesh Office, UNDP Bangladesh, and BRAC joined as discussants.
A survey was conducted with 6,370 households during 10-25 December 2020 as part of the study that applied both quantitative and qualitative techniques.
The survey considered April-November 2020 as a reference period.
The study calls attention specifically to the impact of the Covid-19 on internal and international migration, including returnee migrants who were forced to return to their places of origin due to various circumstances during the pandemic.
One-fourth (25%) of returnee migrant households are concerned over repaying their outstanding migration loans, which amount to an average of BDT 76,000 (around USD 900), and a maximum of BDT 700,000 (around USD 8300), the study found.
Around 44% reported that they could not find any income-generating work and some of them are managing expenses by withdrawing from savings or using rent from assets.
The surveyed households reported a 58% decrease in monthly remittances received on average during the pandemic that is in stark contrast with the national reports of higher flow of remittances during this period.
However, a plausible explanation lies in previous researches that suggest almost half of the remittances received by the households under normal circumstances are through unofficial channels (such as hundi houses, travellers carrying money, etc.), which were unavailable during the pandemic.
The returnee migrant families will put pressure on the existing limited resources, especially in education and health sectors.
The study found that 4.57% amongst the returnee population were school-aged children (age 5 to 16 years).
If these children cannot return to their previous schools after they reopen, the educational institutions in local host communities will be under pressure.
Besides, 13.35% of returnees (both external and internal) are above 40 years of age, and 4.56% are above 50 years of age.
They have a lesser chance of re-migration, which has significant implications for the health services, especially on the services related to non-communicable diseases.
The female returnee migrants, mostly internal migrants, have been subjected to heightened burden during the pandemic.
They identified inability to engage in productive or income-generating work (74%), problems in moving freely in the streets and marketplaces (26.8%), problems in adjusting with local culture and absence of social utilities (20%), and increased burden of household chores and problems in child-rearing and ensuring their education (18%) as major problems faced by them.
In general, the economic disruptions caused by Covid-19 left many people jobless, especially in the low-income and informal economy.
Around 34% of all surveyed households had at least one member who lost jobs or earning capacity and became economically inactive.
Moreover, over three-quarters of sample households (77%) saw a decline in their average monthly income during the pandemic.
The average monthly savings of households decreased by 62% on average, and household debt increased by 31%, as they depleted their savings and borrowing money to manage their daily expenses.
The average monthly expenditure on the other hand fell by only 8.6%.
The study suggests that the expected crude birth rate in 2020 is 20.2 (per 1000 people) in the surveyed households which is higher than the national crude birth rate in 2018 (18.2).
The average family size was found to be 4.7, which is higher than the pre-pandemic national average of 4.06 (HIES 2016).
After the dissemination of the survey findings, Dr. Shamsul Alam said, “Forced migration created frustration among people, particularly for women. We’ve to think over how to create economic opportunities for them. We need a recovery plan — budget is a kind of recovery plan.”
Shoko Ishikawa, Country Representative, UN Women Bangladesh stated, “Even without data, child marriage has been a problem. Migrants are seeing stress in loss of income. Social safety nets need to look into how to support these migrant families e.g. creating more jobs, finding the right kind of skills training.”
Dr. Selim Raihan, Executive Director, SANEM and Professor of Economics, Dhaka University said, “When we’re talking about recovery and coping strategies, these studies are very important. It’s now time to involve all stakeholders, including people’s representatives, business, led by the government, and talk about economic- plus social recovery. – UNB