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Promoting skilled migrants, a challenge

The Nation - March 11, 2012. "Despite Sri Lanka’s migrant worker remittances hitting a record US$ 5.14 billion in the year 2011, the government’s policy programme to promote and improve the image of Sri Lanka as a source country that provide skilled personnel in specialised fields has been barely successful, say experts."

"According to the latest statistics released by the Sri Lanka Bureau of Foreign Employment (SLBFE) for the year 2011, the proportion of skilled category of migrants out of the total migrant population increased only marginally by 4% up to 26% from about 22% in 2006 whilst the number of skilled migrants from 2010 to 2011 had recorded a 5% decrease to 67,703 workers.
“Even though the government desperately wants to promote skilled migrants, we do not see a tremendous increase in the numbers during the last five years.

Though we like to call them ‘skilled’ migrants, the majority of them represent the less sophisticated skilled categories such as technicians, electricians, welders, fitters, taxi drivers and garment factory workers. Therefore, it is doubtful whether the government has achieved its overall policy targets”, Independent Consultant for Labour Migration, L  K Ruhunage who was the former Additional General Manager of SLBFE told The Nation.

In sharp contrast to the government’s policy, statistics also show that the number of migrants in the unskilled category increased by 4% from 20% in 2006 as a proportion of total workers to 24% in 2011 although commendably the household category which stood at 49% out of the total migrants in 2006 came down to about 41% in 2011. 

“The real challenge behind sending skilled migrants is the lower wages offered to them in foreign countries as they can get a much higher salary in the home country. There is also a dearth of skilled laborers because they are not prepared to leave the country for a mere pittance”, Ruhunage added stressing on the importance of tapping into opportunities in the EU region and even countries in the Asia Pacific such as Hong Kong, Singapore, Malaysia, etc in sectors such as hotel, healthcare and IT. Meanwhile, a senior official of SLBFE said that one of the issues in promoting skilled migrant workers was the difficulty in adapting to the requirements of the prospective country seeking Sri Lankan workers.

“Sometimes the curriculums of Sri Lankan vocational training institutes fail to address the requirements of the prospective foreign company. However, plans are now afoot to train these skilled workers depending on the market requirements,” this official who did not wish to be quoted said.

However, a research officer on migration issues at the Institute of Policy Studies opined that skilled workers need to fulfill the emerging opportunities in the island, which is in the phase of development without looking for jobs overseas.
Sri Lanka had sent a total of 262,961 workers in 2011, a marginal decrease of 1.3% from the previous year. The US $ 4.1 billion earned as migrant worker remittances in 2010 represented a 33 percent of the island’s total foreign exchange income whilst accounting for an 8 percent of Sri Lanka’s GDP in that year."


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