Dr Bilesha Weeraratne Discusses Challenges and Opportunities of Sri Lanka’s Brain Drain

26 September 2023

Migration has become a prominent topic in Sri Lanka, especially against the backdrop of the economic crisis. This trend has led to a significant increase in the emigration of skilled and semi-skilled workers searching for better job opportunities. In 2022, the number of new passports issued saw a significant growth compared to pre-pandemic averages. This situation is concerning as it may result in a “brain drain” and a shortage of skilled professionals in crucial sectors. These were the focal points of IPS Research Fellow Dr Bilesha Weeraratne’s keynote address during a recent virtual expert panel discussion titled “Retaining and Enriching the Human Capital for Rebuilding the Nation,” organised by the Centre for Banking Studies, Central Bank of Sri Lanka.

Dr Weeraratne delved into key issues related to the brain drain phenomenon in Sri Lanka. She highlighted the challenges it poses, including shortages of skilled workers affecting investment and employment opportunities, potential impacts on the country’s tax base, and instances of “brain waste” abroad as individuals engage in employment below their potential. Furthermore, she examined potential opportunities stemming from the brain drain, such as financial remittances, social remittances, brain circulation, investments, and the concept of brain gain.

To address the complexities of human capital migration, Dr Weeraratne proposed a multifaceted approach. She noted that Sri Lanka must carefully evaluate its comparative advantages and disadvantages in terms of skills and human capital when addressing retention and enriching human capital. Some related measures highlighted include revising the Citizenship Act to facilitate attracting Sri Lankans to return and continue to engage with Sri Lanka and revisiting attracting foreign nationals to Sri Lanka. Additionally, Dr Weeraratne stressed the importance of being careful about the narrative in depicting those who are “left behind to manage the herd effect” of the outflow of human capital from Sri Lanka.

Watch the full discussion here.