At the end, in the beginning

by Kellynn Wee

Do Bangladeshi migrant workers feel like their lives have improved at the end of their migration sojourns in Singapore? The answers are mixed, and lead to the start: Sumon still waiting to change his fate. This article is the final part of a 5-part series on the journey of Bangladeshi construction workers to Singapore. Read part 1part 2part 3, and part 4.

Bangladeshi migrants in our survey expect to remit a median amount of SGD $800 a month back home, but the actual median amount that they remit is actually about SGD $600. Men planned to spend only 2% of their remittances on debt repayment, but in reality used 22.4.% to do so instead—more than a tenfold of what they had anticipated on using. This meant that men could not save as much as they had initially hoped, or accrue as much money to begin a business as they had first wished.

59% of Bangladeshi respondents felt that family life was either “easier” or “much easier” after their migration sojourns, especially if they were able to fully repay their loans and stay in Singapore for a substantial amount of time. Golam, a 45-year-old man who works 13-hour shifts every day and clocks in overtime hours on Sunday, is able to earn about SGD $1,200 per month. Of this amount, he remits SGD $1,000 back home to support a household of eight. He has been able to provide for his children’s education, expand the family farm, and even purchase new land for a business venture.

Financial success, however, comes attached with other costs. It is difficult being a member of a household that is split across oceans. “My family definitely wants me to come back,” Golam says. “Father, mother, all say come back. Wife and children also want me to come back. But I feel sometimes the money is not enough. My son is staying in Dhaka, studying at Gazi College. The expense is a lot [and] I cannot go back now.”

Despite this, almost half of the men felt that they had achieved “very little” of their migration aims, or “not at all”. Although migration does have a positive impact on their family’s well-being, many still had specific goals which were left unfulfilled. To succeed, most workers need to stay in Singapore for long periods of time, or come back over and over again. With each return, migrants are generally put in a better position: they are able to use their experience, skills, and social networks to find better employers and secure higher pay.

At the same time, the risks of working in Singapore are multiplied. Placement fees have to be paid, and as workers become older, they become less desirable—especially if they have not moved up the rungs to a supervisory role. Construction work is a young man’s game, and the clock is ticking.

Sumon, who came to Singapore at his wife’s behest to “change his fate”, observes from experience that sometimes success is a moving goal, racing at a constant speed towards the horizon. “In my three and a half years of experience, I have seen most [Bangladeshi] people in Singapore dissatisfied with their work and money. They [either] want to go back [to Bangladesh], or [do] go back, but I haven’t seen anyone who went back and never returned here again. Everybody returns here.”

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This blog post is based on this Working Paper, written by Grace Baey and Brenda Yeoh. 

To cite this blog post in APA format, use the following citation. 

Wee, K. (2016, October 19). At the end, in the beginning [Blog post]. Retrieved from

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