The gradual dominance of economic globalisation and the sweeping progress of the information and communication technologies have intensively persuaded countless people to pursue private and professional lives in more than one country simultaneously. However, such people - already being part of a 'diaspora' - maintain varying economic, political and social ties with their country of origin, regardless of whether they have taken up citizenship in their country of residence. Hence, this makes their activities potentially more significant in terms of a development strategy in their country of origin. Lately, Bangladesh has recognised a large population of Non-Resident Bangladeshis (NRB) and expatriates who temporarily work overseas.
Most of the developing countries have started to formulate innovative policies which attempt to reintegrate the members of their diaspora - supported by a thorough study of the skills and resources that members of such overseas groups possess. They are even facilitating the resettlement or circular immigration of their diaspora by rewarding them with investment incentives. Likewise, private enterprises and the civil societies of several countries have partnered with their governments to endorse the expansion of transnational networks which encourage the exchange of skills and ideas between or among diaspora and their countries of origin.
However, the success of these policies depends upon several factors such as the size and investment capacity of the diaspora, and the political atmosphere, investment projection and institutional competence in the country of origin.
One strategy the government can pursue while attempting to mobilise the NRBs in support of development is to create more favourable conditions for investments. India has eliminated several restrictions on Non-Resident Indians (NRIs). It has allowed them to purchase property, withdrawn obstacles to opening bank accounts for the repatriation of the international migrants' remittances, provided tax incentives for their investments, introduced special bonds which the NRIs can invest in. Aided by the substantial economic growth of India in the recent times, such policies have attracted large-scale investments by members of the Indian diaspora in the areas of information technology, electronic media and the airlines business.
Meanwhile, Bangladesh has also developed NRB-friendly economic policies. It is encouraging NRBs to buy the denationalised state enterprises with the promise of a 40 per cent reduction in the price if they purchased them with foreign currency. The government has introduced special investment bonds for the NRBs in both US dollar and taka. Recently, the country has also pursued major housing projects facilitated by investment from the NRBs. However, in spite of the successful attempts to attract investments in bonds and housing, the government has encountered setbacks from its policies to engage the Bangladeshi diaspora. Bureaucratic impediments, including needless paperwork and formalities have already contributed to the failure of some major investments by the NRBs.
Moreover, international organisations and private institutions can also play crucial roles in mobilising our NRB compatriots. They should create opportunities for the NRB who have the training and skills necessary to work in the education, health and agricultural sectors to return to Bangladesh. Despite the temporary or semi-permanent return of an increasing number of university teachers, bankers and other professionals, the government policies are not sufficient for making the 'return migration' easier. Interestingly, the private universities, banks and hospitals of Bangladesh have outpaced the government in facilitating such returns.
Recently, some developing countries have introduced laws which allow their expatriates to reacquire full or partial citizenship rights. Bangladesh should create a liberal policy for the NRBs - offering dual-citizenship rights to members of the Bangladeshi diaspora residing anywhere in the world, so that they can reestablish full civil, political and economic rights, including the right to own property, engage in business and vote.
The NRB population is interested in contributing to our development programmes but they may choose varying forms of engagement based on their capacity and the political and economic environment of Bangladesh. Since the NRB population is not homogenous, the government should devise specific plans to suit their requirements and skills.