ECONOMYNEXT – Over 50 percent of returned migrants in Sri Lanka plan to re-migrate, with 84 percent of the 511 people surveyed believing their current skills are sufficient for re-employment overseas, a study has shown.
The study, conducted by the Institute of Policy Studies of Sri Lanka (IPS) in a Skilled and Resilient Migrant Workers (SRMW) project surveying 511 return migrants in Sri Lanka, revealed that among the surveyed participants, 56 percent of respondents had taken steps towards re-migration, while 193 are considering re-migration within 2023.
The IPS said in a statement authored by Research Assistant Piyumi Ranadewa that, out of the 193 considering to re-migrate in 2023, 68 percent have not pursued further formal training.
As Sri Lanka unveils its Labour Migration Policy 2023-2027, it is timely to shed light on the importance of skill development for re-migration, the IPS said.
“In Sri Lanka, migration is seen as a promising pathway to improved job opportunities, as evident from the recent long queues at passport offices. A significant proportion of Sri Lankan migrant workers were in semi-skilled and low-skilled categories. Most labour migrants are concentrated in Middle Eastern countries, which are common destinations for both skilled and unskilled workers. This aligns with the study findings, which indicated that many of these migrants were engaged in elementary occupations (domestic workers and other low and semi-skilled categories) during their recent overseas employment,” the IPS said in its statement.
Although most re-migrants from Sri Lanka have been employed in lower-skilled jobs, the institute said, they have great potential to improve their prospects by acquiring new skills through upskilling. However, the practice of upskilling is not widespread among this group
“For example, Sri Lanka predominantly relies on foreign domestic workers among its migrant workers. However, there is a growing demand for specialised services like nursing and elderly care. These specialised jobs often offer better pay than foreign domestic workers. Enhancing the skills of returning domestic workers can open up job opportunities in sectors beyond domestic work, particularly in healthcare,” the IPS said.
According to the institute’s findings, most returnee migrant workers planning to remigrate believe their previous training or experience from overseas would suffice, overlooking the need for continuous skill upgrading. In scenarios where re-migration is not voluntary but a necessity due to compelling circumstances, the IPS said, individuals may be forced to re-migrate without the opportunity or motivation to upgrade skills to pursue better employment opportunities overseas.
“If returnee migrant workers consider upskilling, many often opt for informal training or overlook skill development due to perceived opportunity costs and age-related barriers associated with formal skill training programmes available in the country. They fear that dedicating time and resources to formal training might not yield immediate returns on investment, leading them to choose informal learning options instead. Additionally, age-related concerns can make some migrant workers reluctant to enrol in formal training, as they feel they are past the ideal age for learning new skills,” the report noted.
Another significant barrier to skill development for returning migrants, according to the researchers, is the lack of targeted and tailored training programmes. During a Focus Group Discussion (FGD) conducted in Anuradhapura, reluctance to undergo formal training on the grounds that there is no suitable training available in Sri Lanka for the specific machines used while working abroad, had been cited as an example. As these workers aspire to find better opportunities upon their return, the researchers said, access to advanced and customised training becomes a pivotal factor in their career growth.
The IPS said that, while Sri Lanka has taken many steps to provide support services for upskilling and skill recognition for migrant workers, such as the recent collaboration between the Sri Lanka Bureau of Foreign Employment (SLBFE) and the Vocational Training Authority (VTA) to offer specialised training tailored to foreign employment needs, concerns remain regarding the effective dissemination of vital information to the intended beneficiaries.
“As found in the IPS’ study, while a majority of respondents have completed their education up to Grade 10, surprisingly, only 20 percent were aware of National Vocational Qualification (NVQ) levels. Although returnee migrant workers tend to favour informal training, a notable 76 percent (out of 511 individuals) had not acquired Recognition of Prior Learning (RPL) credentials. These credentials serve to formally acknowledge the skills acquired through informal means. This highlights a significant gap and lack of awareness regarding formal skill development and recognition among the respondents.”
While the self-perceived competence of returnee migrant workers is a positive attribute, relying solely on existing skills without further training and formal recognition of available qualifications may hinder the personal and professional growth opportunities of returnee migrant workers, the IPS noted.
Therefore, it is crucial to foster a culture of lifelong learning and skill development to support returnee migrant workers in their re-migration journey and enable them to thrive in a dynamic job market. This involves creating awareness about the importance of ongoing education and training and providing accessible and relevant learning opportunities.
In its statement, the IPS made the following recommendations:
- Improve dissemination of information and guidance about skill development programmes and raise awareness about the importance of upskilling,
- Facilitate awareness and accessibility to available skill development programmes through easily accessible user-friendly platforms like websites or mobile applications.
- Foster collaboration between the public and private sectors and educational institutes to develop targeted training programmes specifically tailored for migrant workers planning to remigrate. These programmes should align closely with industry needs and incorporate hands-on experience.
- Establish networking and mentorship programmes that connect migrant workers with professionals in their fields, providing guidance, collaboration opportunities, and skill enhancement support.
- Promote existing RPL and accreditation of informal skills, encouraging migrant workers to pursue upskilling opportunities.