Jahangir hasn’t thrown away his BMET card
By TWC2 volunteer Heidi M, based on interviews in November 2020.
Any Bangladeshi citizen holding an In-Principle Approval (IPA) letter (see explanation in Glossary) to come to Singapore must also hold an Emigration Clearance Card from the Bureau of Manpower Employment and Training (BMET) in Bangladesh in order to leave the country. BMET has issued these so-called “smart cards” since 2010.
Speaking to the migrant workers at TWC2’s free meals station on one of the evenings, I get an idea that the sole purpose of the card is to swipe it at the airport immigration desk at the time of departure. According to the BMET though, collecting the smart card is one of the most important procedural requirements to facilitate the departure process.
What makes the card smart?
The card was launched as part of a digitisation campaign aimed at accelerating the migration process and to make it easier for Bangladeshis to work overseas. The card comes with an electronic chip containing migrants’ biographical and migration-related details. The migrants are required to produce this card at any Bangladeshi diplomatic missions in the country of destination to avail themselves of any services. If the migrant loses any of his original documents overseas, the card contains enough information to get the support required.
Within the government, the card also enables a creation of a digital database of persons leaving the country to work overseas.
The “smart” Emigration Clearance Card is not to be confused with the “smart” National ID card (NID) which was taken into use by the Bangladeshi government in 2016 as part of their “Digital Bangladesh” initiative.
How to get the card and what does it cost?
The migrant is required to submit a list of documents such as a copy of the passport and a certificate of a three-day pre-departure training. Although the migrant can submit these documents themselves, they rarely do so, perhaps fearing additional hassles according to a source. Instead, they usually rely on intermediaries to submit these documents to BMET on their behalf. The migrant must also get their fingerprints registered and a photo taken, and typically receives the card within the same day.
However, I am told by my interviewees that only Dhaka and Chattogram Manpower Offices issue the emigration clearances, which means migrants lose time and money in accessing the smart cards from other parts of Bangladesh.
Unfortunately, I could not obtain official information from the BMET website on the cost of the smart card itself. For reference, I found a document by the International Labour Organization (ILO) from 2018 describing the labour migration cycle, which mentions a fee of 3,400 Bangladeshi taka (approximately $54). The amount includes a smart card fee of BDT 50, a contribution to Wage Earners’ Welfare Board (WEWB) of BDT 3050 and a stamp fee of BDT 300. A newspaper article from the same year claims the fee to be BDT 250 ($4).
One worker out of the five I interviewed said he paid BDT 4,000 ($63) through a dalal (an informal agent).
Three other interviewees could not tell me the cost of the smartcard as they relied on their travel agents to arrange for their BMET cards, paying them a lump sum for arranging the flights and the card. The lump sum paid to the travel agents varied from BDT 25,000 ($396) to BDT 40,000 ($633) depending on the airline and flight options chosen for the journey. If we were to use the ILO report and an average airfare as a guide, it does seem that the travel agents offering a supplementary “manpower processing” service do so at a reasonable cost as did the dalal in the case of the first interviewee.
My fifth interviewee paid much, much more. He relied on his recruiter to organise the BMET card for him and paid the latter BDT 350,000 ($5,500) for the job (i.e. the agent fee), one-way flight to Singapore and the smart card. He could not detail the cost of each component. The fee charged by this recruiter is unethically high, but not uncommon. The other interviewees may also have paid their recruitment cost separately from the travel agent cost; I didn’t ask them for details.
According to the official procedure, the departing migrants receive a pre-departure briefing by BMET when they collect the smart cards. This short orientation session should give the migrants information about the country of destination, emergency contacts, and an ethical code of conduct. What I learn from the men I talk to is that no one attends these sessions. “Nothing learn,” reports the guy who paid $63.
No one else said they attended such a session. “It’s all alibaba”, they say, using a slang term to mean that the session is only for show with no substance.
What makes the card “single-use” only?
Although the smart card includes a wealth of information, it remains practically useless after the departure of the worker.
Migration experts in Bangladesh have suggested that the government should make efforts to plan a multipurpose use of the smartcards such as forming a database of the returnee migrants, not only those departing. The smart card could also be used at reintegration stages and at the point of possible future expatriation.
Currently, should the worker choose to migrate again, a new Emigration Clearance Card must be issued.
The smart card includes the necessary information about employee and employer and even the name of the recruiting State agency. According to BMET, this is to ensure proper migration. How they envision the information helps with the migration after the worker has departed Bangladesh, remains unclear.
“Anything no help” the workers laugh, when I ask them if they have received some support through the smart card. None of the men has had any use for the card since their departure from Bangladesh, and in fact only one of them still carries the card in his wallet.
So why is it there? “Only if I die they can identify me,” he says.
Indeed, among the welfare services that BMET claims the smart card provides is processing the return of a deceased migrant’s body and payment of death compensation to his or her family. Thankfully, we are not here to check if the claim is correct. And anyway, most migrants believe the smart card has no use, with many throwing it away after leaving Dhaka airport.