Northern Province’s share of expat workers shrinks

Has the Northern Province, which accounts for a major chunk of the Sri Lankan Tamil diaspora, run out of its “stock of exportable manpower” ?

It appears so, if one were to take a cursory look at the recently-released report of the Central Bank of Sri Lanka (CBSL) on economic and social statistics - 2016.

Out of about 2.63 lakh persons who left Sri Lanka in 2015 for foreign employment, the North’s figure was a mere 3.4 per cent with 8,945 persons. It was marginally ahead of the Uva province, which was at the bottom in the list of nine provinces. Uva, known for having a substantial number of plantation workers, saw 8,327 persons opting for foreign employment.

However, the Eastern Province, where the country’s three major ethnic communities – Sinhalese, Tamils and Muslims – constitute around 33 per cent each, was placed at the second slot. It was next to the Western Province. The East’s share of people seeking foreign jobs was about 17.4 per cent (46,832 persons) and that of the West, 27.3 per cent (71,948 persons).

The subject of migration for foreign employment is of critical importance to Sri Lanka as migrant workers’ remittances ($ 6,980 million) constitute two-thirds of export earnings of the country.

Answering the question regarding the North, Indrajit Coomaraswamy, Governor of the CBSL, told THE HINDU on Saturday that “it is partially true [that the number of migrant workers is less]. But, in the North, there is still a desire to move out of the country on a permanent basis, and not so much for temporary employment.” He also cited the presence of a large number of plantation workers in Uva as the reason for the province sending out very less number of people to foreign countries for jobs.

V. Niranjan, analyst, says people of the North are suffering from the lack of access for acquiring skills and lack of infrastructure for developing skills, a situation not faced by those in provinces closer to the West. Also, they are not resourceful enough to opt for unskilled work in the Middle East, which has been accounting for nearly 90 per cent of Sri Lanka’s migrant workers. Cultural barriers come in the way of women of the North going to the Middle East to work as housemaid, whereas totally, last year, over 73,000 women went abroad for this category of job.

But, Ahilan Kadirgamar, political economist based in Jaffna, said that of late, the tendency of seeking greener pastures in foreign countries is on the rise in the Northern Province too. He attributes this to the “worsening economic situation.” Immediately after the end of the civil war in May 2009, the people did not go out of the country but this became more perceptible a few years later. As per the CBSL report, the North had, in 2011, about 6,400 persons going abroad for jobs while, in 2014, the number went up to around 12,620.

Mr Kadirgamar added that the East’s case had to be viewed from its traditional relationship with the Middle East.

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Printable version | Jun 9, 2021 12:07:46 PM |

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