A huge number of foreigners are working in various sectors in Bangladesh but the government administration has not evolved any proper mechanism for their registration, resulting in a capital flight of around US$4 billion or Tk 32,000 a year, said officials.
According to an unconfirmed estimate by a source at the Finance Ministry, the number of foreigners working here is not less than 2.60 lakh who draw Tk 80,000 to Tk 2,50,000 each on an average.
These foreigners from Japan, Korea, India and Sri Lanka, employed in key positions in various establishments, are cashing in on a dearth of a skilled workforce here.
As the authorities concerned like Board of Investment (BoI), Bangladesh Chemical Industries Corporation (BCIC) and Bangladesh Export Processing Zones Authority (BEPZA) and the National Board of Revenue (NBR) have no list of the foreigners working in Bangladesh, the government is being deprived of taxes to the tune of Tk 1,000 a year.
Although prior permission from BoI, BCIC and BEPZA is needed for the foreigners to work in this country, these organisations have failed to register those people.
Officials at BGMEA, the apparel sector's trade body, say a lion's share of these foreigners work in the readymade garment (RMG) sector. Leather and leather goods, spinning, fabric, medicine, food production, transport and information and technology are some other major sectors they work in.
Interesting though, the authorities concerned have not even issued any identity cards for the alien workers, which left no room for the officials to take proper actions against them in case of any lapses or irregularities or even in case of committing any offence.
There are allegations that some foreign nationals are coming to Bangladesh under fake identity of 'skilled workers' without having any such certificates.
Leave alone the issue of bringing these foreigners under income tax net, NBR has no detailed information about the number of the workers and their yearly salaries.
"These foreigners are evading income taxes to the tune of not less than Tk 1000 crore a year," an NBR official told the Daily Observer. However, he failed to respond properly to this correspondent's query on why they could not evolve any mechanism to catch these tax dodgers.
Meanwhile, to discourage employment of foreign nationals, a project has been taken in July this year to train up 2,60,000 workers from different sectors, including RMG, leather and ICT.
Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association alone will impart training to 43,800 workers in the next three years under the project. In the first phase, it has already trained 2,096 people while 1,350 workers are receiving training in 21 districts through 39 institutions. Finance Division is implementing the project in cooperation with different government agencies and business bodies.
"Without improvement of workers' skills and efficiency, it won't be possible to implement our plans or dreams," Finance Minister AMA Muhith opines.
He added that Bangladesh needs to raise the number of skilled workers to graduate to a middle income country.
Criticising the non-registration of the working foreigners, Dr AB Mirza Azizul Islam, a former finance adviser to a caretaker government, said such illegal workers should be identified on priority basis and actions be taken thereof.
"Priority should be given to train up local work forces to replace the foreign nationals. Once we have sufficient trained and skilled workforce, there would be no room for employment of foreigners," he suggested.
Siddiqur Rahman, President of BGMEA, said buyers are urging the entrepreneurs to enhance workers' efficiency as there was no alternative to human resource development for better productivity.
To remain competitive in the global market, he said, the government should set a special rate of currency for the RMG sector as the competitor countries witnessed devaluation of dollars.
He said the RMG sector faces a 25-30 per cent dearth of skilled workers, compared to the current demand and the situation needed to be improved.
When asked, an NBR official said they are contemplating to implement a system in January to register the foreigners on arrival at the airports in Dhaka and other cities, in line with a policy to collect taxes from foreign workers in Bangladesh.
"Once this policy is in place, we expect a huge amount of taxes from the foreigners employed in our country in the next fiscal year," the official added.
A BoI official is also upbeat on proper registration of foreigners soon as the state-run investment promotion body has recently been digitalised.