Sri Lanka plans evidence-based skills visa to fill shortages: Harsha

ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka is planning to issue visas to allow firms to buy skills to move up higher into the value chain while also boosting domestic education, Economic Reforms Minister Harsha de Silva said.

At the moment, Board of Investment-approved firms can import skills relatively easily while other firms have to get approval from the line ministry, which can take months, or be denied altogether.

Some private firms may not be able to find the line ministry and visas may be denied on the individual attitude of the official in charge.

Sri Lanka is now planning to give the authority to the National Human Resources Development Council, which will compile a report periodically on which sectors have skills shortages and which have excesses, making the entire process evidence-based and less arbitrary.

"We can organically grow the skill set or we can purchase it," Minister Harsha de Silva told foreign correspondents in Colombo.

"Like New Zealand purchased it. Or Dubai purchased it. Or like Malaysia is purchasing its skill set or America is purchasing its skill set.

"But we also need to be able to bring people in, whether it is our own expatriates who are overseas or foreign technology or human resources that we want."

De Silva says the idea is to get someone to apply and if there is no response within a period such as two weeks, the visa is considered to have been approved.

It will end the practice of delaying for months and the firm losing its contract or business for lack of skills.

"We’ve got to create that environment where people could come here and engage in activity and they can benefit from themselves and the nation," de Silva said.





At the moment, people of Sri Lankan origin living abroad do not want to come back, especially if their spouse is a foreign passport holder, who is prohibited from working in the country, resulting in a loss of income to any family that moves to Sri Lanka.

The problem will be addressed by reforming the spouse visa, he said.

"Even in the Port City, we want attract the best of human reserves," de Silva said. "So we are creating the necessary and hopefully sufficient conditions for parents of age between 35 and 45 people with young children to migrate back.

At the same time, the government is also boosting skills domestically, de Silva said.

"We are putting most of our attention to education," de Silva said. "How are we going to shift kids after O/Ls to technology driven subjects, whether it is design, software or other technical areas?"

He also said that many students are studying subjects at A/Ls that makes it difficult for them to get jobs, while the country is short of skills in other areas.

The budget for 2019 has announced a scheme where a student passing out of high school can get a 1.1 million rupee loan and earn a degree.

By generating monetary instability and destroying the currency, Sri Lanka’s Central Bank is also destroying capital needed to boost labour productivity and is making it more difficult for young people to study abroad and gain new skills, unlike countries like Malaysia, Dubai, or New Zealand.

Currency depreciating widens real wage gaps and also ensures that people who do gain internationally marketable skills are incentivised to leave the country.

Depreciating and unsound money will also incentivise less skilled workers to go to the Middle East and other areas and prevent any expatriate Sri Lankan from returning to Sri Lanka.

Before the Central Bank was created in 1950, Sri Lanka was a labour importing nation.

Sri Lanka’s immigration law which critics say was one of the first nationalist acts of after the counry gained self-determination from Britain, was also enacted around the same time.

The law has ‘silly’ provisions such as banning naturalisation for foreign male spouses, de Silva said.

Sri Lanka also has nationalist financial regulations targeting foreign spouses who are given one year visas and can only open a bank account for one year and are given teller cards with restricted tightly restricted facilities compared to other residents.

Foreign spouses are among the smallest minorities resident in the country and easiest to discriminate against with nationalist legislation. (Colombo/Mar27/2019-SB)

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