Muhammad Imran, Bangadesh ambassador to UAE talking to Gulf News. Image Credit: Virendra Saklani/Gulf News Archive

Abu Dhabi: Semi-skilled workers make up the majority of Bangladeshi expatriates in the UAE at present, but a top diplomat said this is likely to change soon as more and more skilled workers look to make the UAE their home.

“Historically, about 80 per cent of Bangladeshi expatriates have been semi-skilled. But now, a new crop of workers with advanced skill sets and knowledge are looking for jobs in the UAE, and these include specialist doctors, teachers, banking executives and renewable energy experts,” Mohammad Imran, Bangladeshi Ambassador to the UAE, told Gulf News.

“The skill composition of the Bangladeshi expatriate population in the UAE is, therefore, set to transform, especially as we look towards an expected easing of work visa restrictions on Bangladeshis,” he added.

The diplomat was speaking to Gulf News following a meeting between the Bangladeshi minister of expatriate welfare and overseas employment, Nurul Islam, and Saqr Ghobash Saeed Ghobash, UAE Minister of Human Resources and Emiratisation. The meeting took place on May 16 in Abu Dhabi, and Islam expressed hope afterwards that work visas would soon be normalised for Bangladeshis.

“We are hopeful the work visa will soon be normalised, and more Bangladeshis will be able to come (to the UAE). There have been really positive outcomes from the meetings between officials of both the countries,” Islam said.

About 700,000 to 800,000 Bangladeshis currently live and work in the UAE. The two countries have long shared strong bilateral ties, but the UAE government expressed concerns earlier about unverified documents presented by some Bangladeshi expatriates.

“We took these concerns very seriously, and now, all of our expatriates bear machine-readable passports that are far more secure. This process of replacing written passports with machine-readable ones was completed within an accelerated timespan of three years in November 2015,” Imran said.

There are still about 700 to 800 Bangladeshis serving prison terms in the UAE, but Bangladesh has also taken firm steps to rein in crime rates.

“Any potential migrants now go through a three-tier security check. First of all, no applicant with an adverse police report is issued a passport. Applicants must also submit their biometric data and personal information to a migrant database, and this allows us to track all expatriates who come to the UAE. Finally, Bangladeshi immigration authorities conduct thorough background checks on all workers before they leave the country for work,” Imran explained.

The ambassador added that Bangladesh could also set up a dedicated training centre for UAE jobseekers.

“At present, we run customised country-specific trainings for Bangladeshis who leave to work in South Korea and Japan, and a similar facility can be set up within months for UAE jobseekers if the need is present,” he said.

Dhaka already has a visa centre operated by the UAE to facilitate visa procedures for up to 600 people a day.

Imran also said that much of Bangladesh’s more than 30-million-strong middle class population is keen on visiting the UAE.

“The UAE has positioned itself as a premier shopping and tourist destination, and this is a draw for Bangladeshis who like to and can afford to travel,” Imran said.

Since work visa procedures were tightened for Bangladeshi expatriates, a number of workers have expressed concerns to the embassy about their inability to transfer to more rewarding positions despite having the required work experience.

“These workers wish to benefit from the increased freedom and flexibility offered by the UAE’s 2015 labour reforms, and I have full trust and confidence that the UAE government and leadership will soon take steps to this end,” he added.