National policy for foreign workers coming soon

– Long awaited framework to be sent for Cabinet approval
– Set to regulate foreign workers amidst labour shortage
– Over 30,000 foreigners working here legally

By Madhusha Thavapalakumar

The Department of Immigration and Emigration is drafting a national policy on the employment of foreign workers in Sri Lanka, which is aimed at regulating the migration of labour and safeguard local workers.

The national policy will focus on minimum wage and health insurance, among other things, and would also include a permit system inspired by South Korea.

Speaking to The Sunday Morning Business, Department of Immigration and Emigration Deputy Commissioner/Controller (Policy and Development) M.L.D. Niroshana said that the policy is currently with the legal draftsman and upon completion of drafting it will be submitted for Cabinet approval.

“It is expected to be presented to the Cabinet shortly,” he told.

According to the Department stats, there are currently 30,558 foreigners who are working in Sri Lanka with work visas from the Department, which consists of both the new issuances of work visas as well as extensions of existing visas in 2018.

Accordingly, in 2018 4,554 new work visas have been issued for foreigners to work in the Board of Investment (BOI) projects while 5,595 visas have been extended for the same purpose.

4,506 new work visas have been issued to the state sector employments and 4,708 existing visas in the sector have been extended while 5,782 new visas have been issued and 5,413 visas have been extended for private sector employment.

As estimated by the Department of Immigration and Emigration, India and China stand as the top two countries to send their workers to Sri Lanka by contributing over 8,500 and 7,000 workers respectively, which is around 50% of the total work visas issued in 2018.

Upon the completion of the draft, the national policy will be submitted to the Cabinet for approval.

Niroshana said that BOI public and private sector projects would be allowed to bring down foreign workers only for a period of five years as from the sixth year of the project, the particular organisation should recruit local workers by facilitating transfer of skills.

“During that five-year period, projects have to make sure a Sri Lankan is being trained to take over the foreign employers’ job, because after that, they cannot recruit foreign workers,” he added.

Speaking on migrant workers overstaying their permits beyond its expiration, Niroshana said local employers should be responsible for their migrant workers and should ensure they depart the country when their work visas reach expiration.

“We will be introducing a guarantor system whereby companies have to make sure workers who were brought in are sent out after the expiration of their visas,” Niroshana added.

Inspired by South Korea’s Employment Permit System (EPS), implemented to recruit foreign workers for employment in Korea, the Department of Immigration and Emigration also plans to issue a similar system to ensure transparent and legal recruitment of foreign employers in Sri Lanka.

“We will issue a similar card with details of employment,” said Niroshana.

Commenting on the competency for locally available jobs between foreigners and locals, Niroshana noted that unlike locals, foreign workers are equipped with appropriate high level skills and expertise in industries like technology, which eventually make work easier.

Niroshana further elaborated on his comment saying that in terms of labour standards, locals tend to be unreliable as they fail to deliver uninterrupted manpower and mostly do not choose hard labour employment over self-employment.

“Local workers do not come to work properly. They lack required skills. They prefer driving a trishaw instead of doing hard labour,” he added.

Academics and industry professionals have been calling for a national policy on foreign workers for a long time as Sri Lanka faces an acute shortage of labour, particularly at the lower levels of employment.