With the recent launch of the National Policy and Action Plan on Migration for Employment (2023-2027), it is timely to draw up a picture of Sri Lankan returnee female migrant workers and the socio-economic nuances that determine the ultimate decision-making of these women to migrate and/or reintegrate. This blog sheds light on the hidden struggles of such returnee female migrant workers to identify areas for potential policy actions, especially regarding economic reintegration, drawing on a recent IPS study investigating the skills, aspirations, and reintegration challenges of return migrant workers.
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.
A great deal of discussion is underway on what appears to be the latest wave of migration from Sri Lanka. While the exact scale and nature of youth migration remain unclear, the costs of brain drain dominate these discussions. The brain drain concern is valid, yet focusing on it alone can limit our understanding of the complex implications of migration. This blog argues that apart from its challenges, youth migration can also present some surprising opportunities for socio-economic development if strategically managed.
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.
The impact of COVID-19 on Sri Lanka’s labour market, education, migration, and health sectors were discussed at the second webinar panel discussion held on October 13, to mark the release of the ‘Sri Lanka: State of the Economy 2021’ report, the flagship report of the Institute of Policy Studies of Sri Lanka (IPS). The event saw presentations by Dr Nisha Arunatilake and Dr Bilesha Weeraratne from IPS, with expert insights from Ms Madhavie Gunawardena, Director of TRCSL and Former Commissioner of Labour and Dr Kolitha Wickramage, Global Migration Health Research and Epidemiology Coordinator, Migration Health Division, International Organization for Migration (IOM). Ashani Abayasekera from IPS moderated the discussion. Key highlights of the discussion are presented in this blog.