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.
Remittances are often considered a stable and reliable source of development financing. In 2017, remittances to Sri Lanka declined by 1.08%, compared to the previous year, while the decline in 2018 was 2.08%. An underexplored reason for the decline in remittances is the recent changes in the composition of migrant workers from Sri Lanka. Bilesha Weeraratne highlights the gender aspect of remittances, to identify strategies to improve the country’s remittances in the future.
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.