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Monday April 15th, 2024

Sri Lanka’s returning female migrant workers don’t plan for long-term sustainability: study

Migrant workers in Kuwait, April 2020

ECONOMYNEXT – A majority of Sri Lanka’s female migrant workers aim to return the moment their immediate financial targets are met, with little or no plans for long-term economic sustainability, a study by the Institute of Policy Studies (IPS) has found.

Most female workers who travel abroad do so in search of income that would help finance their debt burdens and other financial difficulties back home and expect to return as soon as those financial targets are met, the IPS said in a statement authored by Research Assistant Manisha Weeraddana.

“In fact, these migrant workers rarely see the need for such reintegration as they do not understand the economic and labour market realities until they try to reassimilate into their lives back home,” IPS said.

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, the institute said.

Among the key concerns highlighted in the statement is a lack of job opportunities as well as forced migration.

The IPS study collected data from 511 return migrant workers randomly selected from Kandy, Kurunegala, Puttalam, Anuradhapura and Vavuniya.

“Here there is no specific work nearby. Sometimes, there is work in vegetable fields … we get around LKR 1000-1200. But it is very hard to find work,” one worker by the name of Asoka had told the researchers, pointing to what IPS called a major issue faced by return female migrant workers in the sample.

“A good part of those who stated lack of job opportunities as a major impediment faced during economic reintegration are considering re-migration or settling down to opening small boutiques with whatever they have managed to save up from their time abroad. Thus, in a way, the decision between successful reintegration and remigration mostly deals with the lack of job opportunities in rural areas,” the statement said.

A lack of support systems and running on borrowed time are other concerning factors.

“Can’t leave my daughter and go in search of jobs… Earlier his (husband’s) mother was there …”  says Asoka.

IPS said Sri Lankan women who migrate for work seem to act on borrowed time which allows them to migrate, earn, send home their incomes, and return home when “time runs out” or in other words, when the support system back home can no longer accommodate the household duties left vacant by a woman.  Asoka’s voice, the researcher said, echoing a prominent theme in Sri Lanka’s female economic participation, opens a new dimension to the discourse surrounding female migrant workers and their decision and capacity to be economically active.

Figure 1: SLBFE Registered Female Migrant Workers by Skill Category

Source: Author’s compilation based on SLBFE 2021 statistics

“Even though most return female migrants are categorised as low-skilled or semi-skilled workers, they possess years of experience as caregivers and domestic workers that should ideally have given them a greater capacity to reintegrate into the Sri Lankan economy. However, most return female migrants are hesitant to pursue similar job opportunities within the local context. This hesitancy is fueled by lack of information regarding well-paying job opportunities for domestic workers/caregivers in urban areas, the social stigma associated with domestic work and challenges in finding work closer to home,” the author wrote.

“The lack of job opportunities in nearby areas highlights another socio-economic dynamic within households of return migrant women, i.e., support systems that make working away from home a possibility.  What is peculiar about these systems is that, for some women, they only exist for a limited period of time. For others, a support system appears to be created, even a second time around, in the face of potential income generation, specifically if it happens to be in the familiar realm of migrant work.”

According to the IPS statement, these subtle nuances of the economic reintegration of female returnee migrants beg policy interventions as well as further research regarding the matter. The 2023-2027 National Policy plan does cater to some of the issues presented. For instance, Core Policy 3 focuses on the promotion of employment opportunities for skilled and semi-skilled migrant workers which can in turn expand the migrant workers’ chances of economic reintegration and financial security. Strategy 4.3.4 under Core Policy 4 focuses on entrepreneurial support for female return migrant workers which can improve the economic reintegration of those who cannot move too far from home in search of job opportunities.

“Nonetheless, further measures are needed, starting with creating awareness surrounding the potential work opportunities for domestic workers within Sri Lanka, and the creation of links between the existing market for care work and the potential labour in rural areas in order to make job opportunities in the area of care work more accessible for those who have already finished their migration process and will not be able to upskill any further or those who do not feel inclined towards entrepreneurship. This can provide women who are forced to remigrate as domestics, especially through familial connections, a chance to consider opportunities within a more familiar and safer setting.  Furthermore, additional research on socio-cultural dynamics within communities where female outmigration is prevalent is needed to provide context-sensitive policy actions.” (Colombo/Nov09/2023)

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Iran President to visit Sr Lanka on April 24 anid rising tension, inaugurate Omaoya power project

ECONOMYNEXT – Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi will arrive in Sri Lanka on April 24 on a one-day official visit to inaugurate Tehran-assisted $529 million worth Uma Oya multipurpose development project with 120MW hydro power generation capacity, official sources said.

The announcement on President Raisi’s visit comes two days after Iran launched explosive drones and fired missiles at Israel in its first direct attack on Israeli territory, a retaliatory strike that raised the threat of a wider regional conflict.

“The President is visiting to inaugurate the Omaoya project. He will be on a one-day visit,” an official at Iran embassy in Colombo told EconomyNext.

A Sri Lankan Foreign Ministry official confirmed the move.

This is the first time an Iranian President coming to Sri Lanka Iranian after then President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s visit in April 2008.

The Omaoya project was originally scheduled to be completed in 2015, but had been delayed several times due to unexpected issued faced during the project cycle and funding issue after the United States imposed economic sanctions on Iran and economic crisis in Sri Lanka.

The project was started in 2010 and the funding was to be received as loan grant from the Iranian government. However, Iran was able to provide $50 million before the sanctions. Sri Lanka has to bear the cost after the sanctions.

The project includes storing water in two reservoirs with dams before being brought through a 23 km tunnel to two turbines located underground and generating hydro power with a capacity of 120 megawatts and added to the national grid.

After power generation, the water is expected to be brought to three reservoirs while supplying water to 20,000 acres of old and new paddy fields in both the Yala and Maha cultivating seasons.

The Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) for the construction was signed between the two countries in 2007 while Sri Lanka’s Cabinet approved the execution of the contract agreement between the Executing Agency, Sri Lanka’s Ministry of Irrigation and Water Management (MOIWM) of the GOSL and Iran’s FARAB Energy and Water Projects (FC).

When commencing the project on March 15, 2010, the scheduled date of completion of the project was on March 15, 2015. But the schedule completion date was extended to December 31, 2020 due to the unexpected water ingress into the head race tunnel and followed by social impacts.

The trade between the both countries suffered after the US sanctions. However, Sri Lanka inked a deal in December 2021 with Iran to set off export of tea to Iran against a legacy oil credit owed by state-run Ceylon Petroleum Corporation to the National Iranian Oil Company.

Sri Lanka owes $251 million for crude imported before the US imposed sanctions on Iran. (Colombo/April 15/2024)

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Sri Lanka to discuss two contentious points with bondholders: report

ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka and sovereign bondholders are to discuss two matters in the near future which the two sides failed to reach agreement at March talks in London, a media report quoting a top aide to President Wickremesinghe as saying.

Sri Lanka and bondholders had discussed four matters on restructuring international sovereign bonds in late March and agreement had been reached on two, President’s Chief of Staff Sagala Ratnayake was quoted as saying on state-run ITN television.

A restructuring proposal by bondholders was not in line with IMF requirements, and Sri Lanka had sent a counter proposal, he said.

The matters will be discussed at round of talks in the near future.

Sri Lanka was optimistic of reaching an agreement with the bondholders before June, officials have said.

According to matters already in the public domain, sovereign bond holders are keen to get a bond tied to dollar gross domestic product, as they feel IMF growth projections are too low.

In past re-structuring so-called value recovery instruments, a type of warrant, gave their owners extra payments if a country did better than expected and were tied to items like oil prices.

Bondholders had initially proposed bond which would have a lower hair cut initially, and it will have additional hair cuts if growth is low (about 3.1 percent) as projected in an IMF debt sustainability analysis. (Colombo/Apr15/2024)

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BIMSTEC Secretary General visits Sri Lanka, discusses regional cooperation

ECONOMYNEXT – The Secretary General of the Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC), discussed measures to enhance regional cooperation, during his visit to the island last week.

Ambassador Indra Mani Pandey, Secretary General of BIMSTEC visited Sri Lanka from 07 – 12 April 2024, following his assumption of office as Secretary General of BIMSTEC in January this year.

The Secretary General “met with senior officials of relevant Ministries/Agencies to discuss measures to enhance regional cooperation under various BIMSTEC initiatives,” the Foreign Ministry said in a statement.

Several BIMSTEC countries have bilateral trade agreements, such as Sri Lanka and India, Thailand and Myanmar, Sri Lanka and Thailand, but no collective regional agreement to enable intra-regional leverage.

During the visit, Secretary General Pandey held discussions with Ministry of Foreign Affairs officials and paid courtesy calls on the President and the Minister of Foreign Affairs.

Secretary General Pandey participated at an event on “Regional Cooperation through BIMSTEC” organized by the Lakshman Kadirgamar Institute (LKI) on 9 April. (Colombo/April15/2024)

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