The Sri Lanka National Policy on Labour Migration is developed by the Ministry of Foreign EmploymentPromotion and Welfare. Its aim is to articulate the State Policy regarding Sri Lankan citizens engaged inemployment in other countries and to recognise the significant contribution of all Sri Lankan migrantworkers to the national economy through foreign exchange remittances and other mechanisms. Thepolicy has the goals of developing a long-term vision for the role of labour migration in the economy,enhancing the benefits of labour migration on the economy, society, the migrant workers and theirfamilies, minimizing its negative impacts and, finally, working towards the fulfilment and protection of allhuman and labour rights of migrant workers.
Over the years, Sri Lanka has instituted a number of programmes and schemes that cover issues ofgovernance in the process of labour migration, the protection and welfare of migrant workers and theirfamilies. Most notably, the Sri Lanka Bureau for Foreign Employment (SLBFE) has been instituted since1997, providing services and a regulatory framework for interested migrants. In 2007, this was broughtunder the purview of the Ministry of Foreign Employment Promotion and Welfare (MFEPW). Theoperations of these initiatives have been within the framework of principles of decent work, dignity oflabour and the protection of all human rights and freedoms of migrant workers and their families. Despitethese initiatives, Sri Lanka continues to face a number of challenges in the field of foreign employmentsuch as the vulnerability of workers who migrate under risky and unsafe conditions and the predominanceof low-remittance, low-skilled jobs mainly for women with heavy social costs for families. Thus, thedelicate balance between the promotion of foreign employment and the protection of national workersabroad is a continuous challenge. The current national policy is designed to address this and otherchallenges.
Overall, the national policy aims to promote opportunities for all men and women to engage in migrationfor decent and productive employment in conditions of freedom, equity, security and human dignity. It isintended to do so through the institution of policies, laws, regulations, services and facilities for migrantworkers and their families. Special emphasis is laid on the development of skills as a main and effectivemeans of protection for migrant workers and their families. The policy is developed in three sections;namely, governance of the migration process, protection and empowerment of migrant workers and theirfamilies, and linking migration and development processes. Additionally, six appendices describe thecomprehensive framework and consultative process within which the policy was developed.
In the first section, good governance is recognised as vital to regulating the labour migration process andis seen to encompass effective institutions and regulations. Good governance should protect human rights,promote participation and achieve equitable social and economic outcomes. Participation, transparencyand accountability are key elements of good governance. There are four key areas for consideration,namely, the institutional framework, the legislative framework, the regulatory framework and the socialdialogue and consultative framework.
The MFEPW sets the institutional framework and is complemented by other key institutions. Under theprovisions of the current policy, an Advisory Committee on Labour Migration and an Inter-MinisterialCoordinating Committee are to be established to review existing labour migration processes and facilitatecollaboration where necessary. The regulatory role of the SLBFE is to be recognised and furtherstrengthened. In particular, clear guidelines for recruitment are to be issued and the recruitment processmore closely monitored and regulated. Recruitment agencies will be held to high standards of conductand penal provisions are present to address offences. Equally importantly, the role and capacities of the
diplomatic missions in receiving countries to meet the protection and guidance needs of migrantworkers are to be strengthened through allocation of resources for training, greater coverage in servicesand establishment of relevant facilities.
The legislative framework is to be in line with existing national and international law on migration. Thecurrent existing legislation, namely the SLBFE Act, will be reviewed and amendments proposed to fill anygaps. Sri Lanka is a signatory to the International Convention on the Protection of All Migrant Workers andtheir Families and a number of other international conventions and frameworks. Thus, efforts will beunderway to ensure that these obligations are met where appropriate through legislative measures.
The regulatory framework, overseen by the SLBFE, includes ensuring accessible and equitableopportunities for skill development to all citizens thereby promoting skilled labour migration. Attentionwill be given to the promotion of overseas employment opportunities that safeguard the rights of migrantworkers. In particular, this will be achieved through the provision of skills to low-skilled workers,ensuring just and adequate remuneration for migrant workers, addressing issues of abuse, violation andexploitation and preventing and redressing issues of human trafficking. Finally, attempts will be made toensure the voting rights of migrant workers towards participation and consultation.
The second section pertains to the protection and empowerment of migrant workers and their families.The State, having the primary responsibility for the protection of migrant workers and their families,undertakes to protect and empower migrant workers and their families in all three stages of the migrationprocess. These stages are pre-departure (from decision-making to training to preparation for migration),in-service (workers in employment and families left behind) and return and reintegration (withconsideration for reintegration, acceptance and appreciation).
The State, in particular, will undertake to set minimum requirements for the profile of migrant workers toensure their welfare and protection, develop an environment within which potential migrant workers canmake informed and considered decisions to migrate for work, further minimise irregular and abusiverecruitment processes, and offer significant measures to prepare and train migrant workerspsychologically and professionally. This includes psychological and public health advice and support. TheDiplomatic Missions in receiving or host countries shall place as priority their duty to protect migrantworkers and will ensure safe repatriation for all workers in need. Ensuring that return and reintegrationtakes place with full protection of rights and freedoms is paramount. The State also recognises itsresponsibility towards protection and welfare of children of migrant workers.
In the pre-departure stage, the State will establish minimum requirements to qualify for labour migrationpertaining to age, literacy and suitability for selected work categories. Recognizing that migration foremployment is a voluntary decision and a right enjoyed by all citizens, the State will undertake measuresto assist potential men and women migrants in their decision-making process to migrate for employmentand will prevent dissemination of misleading information. Measures will be put in place to preventexploitation and abuse in recruitment of migrant workers, upgrade training courses to improvecompetence and capacity, assist in preparation for travel and employment overseas, and conduct allnecessary medical tests prior to departure. Migrant workers will be able to avail themselves ofpre-departure counselling and psychological preparation for working and living overseas.
While in-service, the State will provide mechanisms to protect migrant workers from exploitation andabuse, and will ensure that Sri Lankan Diplomatic Missions in host countries have adequate systems andservices to assist all migrant workers in each country and work towards their protection and welfare in aproactive manner. A plan for provision of benefits and services for migrant workers, including insurance,pension and welfare, will be developed by the State and made available for all migrant workers and
families. Repatriation policy will be handled through the placement of contractual responsibility andliability on recruitment agencies. Finally, the State will formulate a policy framework to protect thechildren of migrant workers through registration, monitoring and special benefits.
Upon return, the State will design and implement a mechanism to facilitate return and reintegrationservices for migrant workers. This will include due recognition of migrant workers and enable them toenjoy priority access to services, special services on arrival at the airport, guidance and skills forreintegration, tax concessions and special benefits to children of migrant workers. The State recognisescivil society organisations and trade unions to be another effective means by which migrant workers canavail themselves of an environment for successful reintegration.
The final and third section of the national policy relates to the linking of development and migrationprocesses in recognition of the contribution of labour migration to employment, economic growth,development and the generation of income. Return migrants and transnational migrants contribute toinvestments, transfer of technology and skills, human capital formation, enhancement of social capital,promotion of trade and business links and good governance. While keeping in mind that overseasemployment cannot be considered a strategy for sustainable economic growth and national developmentin the long run, the State recognises the significant contributions of labour migration towardsdevelopment. However, the State is also committed to creating decent work opportunities at home andpromoting equitable distribution of wealth and the benefits of development.
For these purposes, new overseas markets and opportunities must be explored and promoted. This willensure the promotion and development of employment opportunities outside Sri Lanka for Sri Lankans.Labour market surveys, market analyses and market promotion plans in foreign countries will helpascertain the emerging opportunities and new demands.
Furthermore, it is essential that labour migration is integrated and mainstreamed in national development,decent work, labour market and poverty reduction policies to underscore the role of migration in SriLanka's development. This will be a coordinated effort with other national and international agencies anddepartment to ensure that labour migration is incorporated into all relevant policy frameworks.
The promotion of skilled worker migration is seen as key to linking development and migrationprocesses. In particular it is seen as important to ensure the development of a higher mix of skills and toincrease opportunities for prospective migrant workers to become skilled. This will require appropriatehuman resource development plans which aim at a globally competitive workforce, provision of skills,networking to maximise training and recruitment benefits, language learning and exchange programmesand the protection of rights and freedoms of migrant workers.
The role of migrant remittances in development must be better understood and recognised, particularlyits role in human capital formation through education and healthcare for children. Migrant remittances areprivate household transfers that enable education and healthcare for children, therefore action will betaken to raise volume of remittances, reduce transfer costs and increase institutional options of remittingmoney. Migrant savings schemes and investment incentives are other means by which migrant remittancesmay contribute directly and indirect to development.
Return migration and circulation are key opportunities for skills transfer, productive employment andconflict-free social integration. Commencing at the point of departure, the SLBFE will design andimplement a mechanism for returnee migrant workers to promote local employment and tap their skillsand potentials for national and personal development. This will be supported by periodic studies andincentives for investment and enterprise creation. Another important strategy will be engagement oftransnational communities to harness the resources, skills and expertise of Sri Lankans working in skilled
and professional capacities overseas by providing incentives to return, contributing to home countrydevelopment. Diaspora mapping, links to transnational community organisations and active networkingwith scientific and intellectual diasporas will be promoted for this purpose.
The need for comprehensive information and database on labour migration is recognised. Studies andregular monitoring, which reliably inform about the profiles and numbers of migrant workers, are meansby which to achieve a better fit between development, labour migration, protection and good governance.In addition, this will enable a more differentiated set of services to migrant workers of diverse backgroundsand categories. The MFEPW will establish the Sri Lanka Migration Studies Institute to highlight solutionsto migratory problems of Sri Lankans and enhance the promotion of their gainful employment abroad.
The national policy has been developed with the full and active participation of key stakeholders in theprocess. The Ministry of Foreign Employment Promotion and Welfare takes full responsibility to carryforward this National Policy on Labour Migration, recognising the roles and responsibilities placed on keystakeholders and actors in the process and counts on their cooperation for realising the objects of thispolicy. The MFEPW will establish mechanisms for monitoring and reporting back on the implementationof the policy and the realisation of its objectives.