Once, a foreigner submitted his application to our mission for a visit visa. He had just returned to that country (not his own country) after spending about four weeks in Bangladesh. Likewise, he had earlier visited Bangladesh twice on 'Tourist/Visit Visa'. First of all, we requested him to explain why he had come to our mission instead of taking visa from the Bangladesh Embassy in his own country. But since he has previously taken visa from this mission, he preferred to come here, instead of his own country which is actually far away from Bangladesh. Though we agreed to issue him visa only for a ten-day stay on condition that he would not come to our mission in the future, but he was pressurising for four weeks. In fact, we knew the purpose of his visit to Bangladesh, though he did not disclose his intention. At that time, one influential person from Dhaka (his employer) also telephoned me for his visa. And it was learned that the foreigner had been working as a consultant in their company for the last two months. Finally, he was issued with a visit visa for the last time, urging the company to take necessary steps regarding his stay in Bangladesh following the rules of the government. However, we had communicated the issue to our authorities in Dhaka.
In fact, that European gentleman was sent to that country of South East Asia every month for visa so that the company could easily avoid paying any income tax (30 per cent of the income) for him to the government. Despite being told to the company, they did not agree to arrange an 'employment visa' for him with the approval of the Board of Investment. Maybe in the next months, he had to go to another mission of Bangladesh to get his visa.That's how thousands of foreigners are working in Bangladesh. In this way, we are making our own personal interests by deceiving our country. In fact, the foreigners are not sacrificing their salaries, but we are keeping the tax money in our account depriving our government. Foreigners working here clearly understand our nature and preserve very bad impression about us in their mind. Will we blame those foreigners or the owners of the companies of our country for these crimes? Who will bring these violators of laws to justice?
On another occasion, two people from an African country submitted their visa applications to our mission to come to Bangladesh as players. Their applications were enclosed with only a letter of invitation from a football club of Chittagong, not any document from the government. In that situation, our mission contacted the concerned ministry in Dhaka for their concurrence. However, we could not issue them any visa as the reply from the ministry was not satisfactory. Even, no official of that football club or any other person requested us for their visas.
According to media reports, in the last few years, a significant number of foreigners, especially African nationals, came to Bangladesh as players and did not return even after the expiration of their visa. Many of them have been found involved in various criminal and fraudulent activities like smuggling, drug trade, fake money making, cyber-crime, etc. It is not difficult to understand that these foreign nationals must have received visa on someone’s reference from Bangladesh and are staying in Bangladesh under the shelter of those Bangladeshis. Because, it is not possible for them to come to Bangladesh and do all these rubbish things without the help of any local people. Our authorities must have known this very well and we hope they are taking necessary measures and will continue that.
Nearly 9 million Bangladeshis are working abroad. One third of the remittance, Bangladesh gets from them every year (more than five billion US dollars), goes back to the home of around five hundred thousand foreigners working in this country. However, according to the National Board of Revenue, on an average, about thirteen thousands foreign nationals working in Bangladesh submit income tax returns each year. Then, where others submit their income tax returns? Though most of them are from India, but there are people from Pakistan, Sri Lanka, China, South Korea, Taiwan and some countries of Europe. It is worth mentioning that 4 billion dollars of remittance goes only to India every year. According to another source, 85,486 foreigners are working in various sectors of Bangladesh, of whom 67,853 are working in their own establishments. Foreigners, in general, are working in various sectors like non-governmental organisations (NGOs), hotels, restaurants, educational institutions, industrial establishments, hospitals, apparel and textile industries, buying houses, telecommunications, information technology, etc. In fact, if we could have their detail information, they could not evade taxes so easily.
In Bangladesh, I do not know why we so easily cheat others for personal benefits. And if the matter concerns the interests of the country or the government, then it follows the highest level of cheating. We always try to find out some vacuum to make our pockets heavy by cheating the country or the people. However, we do not miss the chance to speak about patriotism or people's welfare. But we never feel ashamed to cheat others or do not hesitate to deceive the country to benefit ourselves. It is very difficult to say whether that day would come when this mentality would change. To bring any change in the ongoing practices, the uses of modern technologies will only help when we will be respectful to laws in carrying out our responsibilities.
The government may consider the following recommendations to oversee the activities and movements of foreign nationals staying in Bangladesh: (1) All Bangladesh missions abroad could be advised to send monthly visa statement (category-wise) to the concerned authorities of Bangladesh, particularly to the Ministry of Home Affairs. (2) We have to adopt modern technology to monitor whether any foreigners coming to Bangladesh on visit visa are working here. (3) Immigration offices situated at different ports of entry, like airports and land ports, could be instructed to send monthly statement of arrivals and departures of all foreigners to the Ministry of Home Affairs. (4) Since nationals of a number of countries do not need prior visa to visit Bangladesh, the concerned department of the Ministry of Home Affairs should be asked to prepare a complete list of all foreigners visiting Bangladesh with the help of the statements sent by our missions abroad and immigration offices located at the ports of entry in Bangladesh. (5) Necessary monitoring system should be established to follow the foreigners who are continuing working in Bangladesh on expiration of their work permit/visa. (6) A cell with skilled manpower should be established in the Home Ministry that will create a digital database of all foreigners according to visa category. That cell would manage the proper inclusion, preservation and monitoring of all information concerning visiting foreigners. This database network will be connected directly to our missions abroad and all immigration offices at our air/land ports. Our immigration offices at the ports of entry would take the finger prints of all foreigners and send those to the main data centre at the Home Ministry. (7) Work permit issuing authorities, like Bangladesh Investment Development Authority (BIDA), Bangladesh Export Processing Zones Authority and NGO Affairs Bureau, should also be connected with the database network of the Home Ministry. (8) The officials working in the immigration offices at our ports of entry will be able to know from the database whether any foreigner has evaded paying his income tax while working in Bangladesh or whether he has worked here coming on visit/tourist visa or stayed after the expiry of his visa. Even, immigration office will be able to find out the company where that foreigner worked. (9) In order to create highly skilled manpower, who can handle modern technologies and automated machinery, is a must to replace the foreigners working in various sectors and levels. Necessary plans on this crucial issue should be taken as priority. In this case, the government has to play the key role.There is no way but to acknowledge that these foreign professionals are employed once experienced locals are not available for those jobs. And in the future, this process might continue until the creation of an alternative pool of local technical experts. There is nothing wrong with it, because those foreign professionals are indispensable to keep our country’s economic wheel running. However, the employment of any foreign should be according to the laws of the country, i. e., employers should obtain permit from BIDA or other agencies concerned for recruiting each foreigner. The employers, in one hand, should note that any such employment does not fall into an embarrassing situation and on the other hand, all foreign nationals coming to work here must be respectful to the local laws during their stay in Bangladesh. Thus, their stay in Bangladesh will be meaningful, charming and hazardless.
The writer is a former Ambassador and Secretary.