They paid only Tk181 crore in tax in FY19 and dodge Tk12,000 crore every year
It has been more than two years since the National Board of Revenue (NBR) started preparing a database of foreign workers in the country, but could not finish it yet.
It formed a cell in 2017 to create the database based on information that more than two lakh aliens were working in the country illegally.
It sent letters to several authorities, including the home ministry, the immigration department, the export processing zone authority and the economic zones authority, and asked them for information to help create the database.
Former NBR member Sirajul Islam, who was a member of the cell, said many of the authorities did not respond to the request for information.
"Some of them provided information on foreigners working legally but there were inconsistencies. That is why we are conducting drives now.
"We found foreigners working illegally in some national and international organisations but the number is small. It has become difficult to get the actual figure as the number of foreigners is not mentioned in the companies' official documents," explained Sirajul.
NBR official Nahar Ferdousi Begum, who is a member of the tax legal and enforcement division, told The Business Standard only a small number of foreigners who are working legally pay taxes.
"We are working to determine the real number of foreign workers and the amount of tax evaded by them," she said.
Meanwhile, anti-graft organisation Transparency International Bangladesh (TIB) said in a report on Wednesday that a large number of foreign nationals working in Bangladesh do not pay taxes.
Foreign workers evade at least Tk12,000 crore in taxes every year and at least 2.5 lakh foreign nationals work in Bangladesh legally and illegally, the report said.
Also, many illegal workers are evading tax and are taking their money out of Bangladesh. The TIB said the annual outflow of such money amounts to Tk26,000 crore.
The NBR did not accept the TIB figures, but said the amount of tax evaded by foreigners is very large.
The NBR collected Tk181 crore in taxes from foreign workers in the fiscal year 2018-19.
The latest data from the Ministry of Home Affairs say 85,486 foreigners work in Bangladesh while the Department of Immigration and Passports puts the number at 33,405.
According to the Bangladesh Investment Development Authority, some 12,000 foreign nationals obtain work permits every year.
The number was 11,180 in the last fiscal year although 9,500 of them submitted tax documents to the NBR.
The income tax law says foreign nationals cannot start working before submitting their work permits and tax documents, NBR official Nahar said.
Foreign workers have to submit their annual tax returns and their tax rate is 30 percent, she said.
The NBR official said the board has earnings information of those who submit tax returns. "We are working to detect the tax evaders."
The Federation of Bangladesh Chambers of Commerce and Industries (FBCCI), the country's apex trade body, is one of the authorities that was asked to provide information to help create the foreigners' database.
The then FBCCI president, Md Shafiul Islam Mohiuddin, told The Business Standard copies of the NBR letter were forwarded to all the organisations under the federation.
"They were asked to comply with the NBR request for information, and many of them did so," he added.
Bangladesh Investment Development Authority (BIDA) said there were around 23,854 foreign workers in the country between September 2016 and September 2019.
Of them, 14,091 in the industrial branch have work permits, including fresh and extended permits, while the number is 9,763 in the commercial branch.
The investment agency said it had submitted all this information to the NBR.
Its Director Md Ariful Hoque Chowdhury issued a directive in late September last year, asking the subordinate organisations to submit information on foreign nationals they had employed.
The directive warned that BIDA would discontinue its services to any organisation employing foreigners without work permits.
According to the income tax law, a company recruiting a foreigner without work permit would have to pay an additional 50 percent of its tax payable or a fine of at least Tk50 lakh.
Also, there are provisions in the finance act that say such a company would lose its tax facilities, including tax rebate, and face jail terms as well as financial penalty.