The decision by the Cabinet to partially lift the Family Background Report (FBR) requirement for female migrants is long overdue and a welcome move to promote female labour migration from Sri Lanka. The FBR policy was introduced in June 2013 to restrict females with children under the age of five and to discourage females with older children from taking up foreign employment. The FBR initially covered only female domestic worker departures but in August 2015, this was expanded to cover all females. As a result, from 2013 onwards the dominance of women among worker departures declined significantly. The partial removal of this discriminatory requirement is likely to increase female departures by enabling women to decide independent of their maternal status while minimising delays and vulnerability in the recruitment process. However, to reap the desired outcome of more remittances, the new stock of females departing for foreign employment in the absence of the FBR must be convinced to remit through formal channels.
Despite the pandemic and related difficulties in remitting, inward remittances to Sri Lanka had picked up by December 2020 to record year-over-year growth of 5.8 %, contrary to all expectations. The reasons for such a quick rebound include catching up on postponed remittances, accumulated terminal employment benefits and savings-related remittances of migrant workers laid off due to the pandemic, receipt of counter-cyclical remittances from less frequent remitters and the shift from informal to formal channels. In the current context of the foreign exchange crisis in Sri Lanka, the latter is the most critical factor to focus on.
Sri Lanka’s migrant workers are an integral part of our economy, with their remittances traditionally accounting for the second largest share of the country’s foreign exchange earnings (8% of GDP in 2019) after merchandise exports. After the COVID-19 outbreak and resultant difficulties, a sizeable proportion of migrants looked forward to a safe return home. This blog, written to mark International Migrants Day, examines the experience and challenges in the repatriation process and offers suggestions on the way forward.
Repatriation and Replacement of Lost Foreign Jobs: Handling Labour Migration in Sri Lanka during COVID-19
Sri Lanka, which has been sending workers abroad for employment for decades, is now faced with the formidable challenge of repatriating large numbers of migrant workers affected by COVID-19. This exercise calls for a continued coordination with the returnees, beyond the period of travel and quarantine. This blog dissects the nuances of labour migration, lost foreign employment opportunities, and repatriation brought about by the spread of COVID-19 and provides policy recommendations to successfully re-enter foreign labour markets.
Growing pressure on Sri Lanka’s scarce foreign exchange resources, due to the wide spread of COVID-19 across the globe, is now more real than ever before. To ease this pressure, the Central Bank of Sri Lanka (CBSL) has taken many measures to attract as well as retain more foreign exchange in Sri Lanka. Yet, it is uncertain if these efforts alone would be able to address Sri Lanka’s deepening foreign exchange concerns. This blog highlights the importance of remittances to Sri Lanka and outlines how to harness the potential of international remittances to complement other efforts already taken by the CBSL.