In 2017, foreign exchange earnings from worker remittances to Sri Lanka stood at USD 7.2 billion, well ahead of other major foreign exchange earners, while they also covered 96% of the trade deficit. Despite a few fluctuations, worker remittances to Sri Lanka have been growing over the years. At the same time, many developments in ICT and FinTech have emerged to facilitate remittance transaction. Nevertheless, whilst simplifying and making remitting more efficient, these developments have made remittances even more complicated.
The Sri Lankan economy is transitioning from a mere labour sending economy into one that both sends and receives workers. The same employment opportunities, working conditions, and demand and supply conditions that necessitated outmigration of Sri Lankans workers is now attracting foreign workers in to Sri Lanka. In this new reality, Sri Lanka needs an updated Act to govern immigration in to the country, as well as a matching institutional framework to ensure efficient and foolproof operation of related activities. In formulating such an institutional framework, it is important to note that migration transition is a long, complicated, and dynamic phase.
Sub Agents play a significant role in the recruitment process of migrant workers from Sri Lanka. However, to-date Sub Agents are informal stakeholders in the recruitment process. As such, currently, there is increasing interest in Sri Lanka to formalise Sub Agents and hold them accountable for their conduct. In this blog, Bilesha Weeraratne weighs in on how Sub Agents can be regulated to better serve potential migrants and licensed agents.
With the recent signing of the Sri Lanka – Singapore Free Trade Agreement (SLSFTA), as well as the Economic and Technological Cooperation Agreement (ETCA) with India that is being negotiated, there has been wide public debate on the issue of allowing free movement of people across borders. Bilesha Weeraratne argues that the ability to retain skilled foreign workers, and continue to attract high-skilled migrant workers is contingent upon the development of policies that will cater to the needs of inbound migrant workers while leveraging the potential they hold to foster economic growth and development in the country.
While Sri Lanka’s 2018 Budget was applauded on many fronts, Bilesha Weeraratne argues that it has ignored an important aspect of the country’s economy: migrants’ remittances. Annually, over 250,000 Sri Lankans leave for foreign employment. Yet, the proposed Blue-Green Budget had no reference to remittances, nor the migrant workers who send them home. Does this mean migration and remittances are not priorities of the Sri Lankan economy?