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Youth migration: Challenges and opportunities for Sri Lanka

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By Thisuri Ekanayake

A great deal of discussion is underway on what appears to be the latest wave of migration from Sri Lanka. These conversations focus on the desire of young people to migrate in search of greener pastures in the face of the soaring cost of living and uncertainty about the country’s future. While the exact scale and nature of youth migration remain unclear, the costs of brain drain dominate these discussions. The brain drain concern is valid, yet focusing on it alone can limit our understanding of the complex implications of migration. This blog argues that apart from its challenges, youth migration can also present some surprising opportunities for socio-economic development if strategically managed.

Youth Migrants

According to the latest Social and Economic Statistics and the Labour Force Surveys of Sri Lanka, departures for foreign employment among young people aged 15-29 years in relation to their population has not seen a noticeable rise in the recent past.

While it can be argued that the perceived increase in migration is a more recent phenomenon accentuated by the pandemic in 2020, it is also possible that young people depart more frequently for other pursuits such as education, for which statistics are not publicly available. To further complicate matters, it is unclear whether most youth consider education as a pathway for long-term residence abroad or intend to return to Sri Lanka with their acquired qualifications.

An Opinion Tracker Survey carried out by the Institute of Health Policy provides a clearer answer. This survey suggested that youth aged 18-29 have the highest desire to migrate at around 48%. But it was people in areas such as the Western province who indicated greater capability of preparing for migration. This is likely due to the high initial cost including airfare, tuition fees, and initial living expenses. Departures in categories other than short-term employment, therefore, seem to be mainly associated with high and middle-income groups. One frequently discussed implication of this is brain drain or the emigration of highly knowledgeable people. Out-migration can also affect economic growth as these social segments provide a stable source of demand for goods and services and contribute to investments. Beyond economic impacts, such communities also hold significant socio-political power in the country. Although understanding the full extent of the desire of young people to migrate remains difficult due to the lack of comprehensive data, a more strategic approach is still warranted to mitigate the adverse effects of migration and leverage its unique advantages.

Youth Migration and Development

Return Migration

As human capital is one of the most valuable resources in Sri Lanka, brain drain can be detrimental. Conversely, return-migration of those who have acquired greater knowledge and skills would increase the stock of human capital. However, the challenges of absorbing returning youth must also be acknowledged, since there can be a mismatch in acquired skills, expectations, and the existing labour market demand. Aside from this, a high unemployment rate (26.5%) among those aged 15-24 years is already prevalent in the country. As such, it is necessary to create more opportunities for youth especially in areas such as science and technology which have a potential for growth and innovation, and also facilitate a conducive business environment and financial system so that knowledge and skills can be utilised in a productive, profitable manner.

Remittances

Migration and remittances have been widely discussed in relation to the current foreign exchange shortage in the country. Although there is some difficulty in estimating the remittances by the youth alone due to data availability, the Sri Lanka Foreign Employment Bureau finds that in 2020, the overall highest contributions originated from areas such as the Middle East (51.7%) and the European Union (19%) whereas destinations such as North America or Australia and New Zealand only account for 2.5% of the total remittances each. This can be expected as many who depart to the former regions are temporary workers regularly remitting to support their families and livelihoods in Sri Lanka.

There is some potential then, to improve flows from the latter regions with sizable communities of Sri Lankans or those of Sri Lankan origin. Proactive engagement of young people can be carried out especially through networks such as school or university alumni associations, voluntary groups, and educational institutions in collaboration with government and non-government bodies.

Investment

As a somewhat risk-averse society, investment and entrepreneurship in Sri Lanka tend to suffer, especially among the youth. But this is understandable given the volatile economic conditions, relatively poor business environment (99th position in the Ease of Doing Business Index in 2020), limited capital, and negative societal attitudes. Conversely, youth from diaspora communities, once securely established are likely to have greater access to capital and may also be less risk-averse due to their exposure to new norms and attitudes.

Another benefit of connecting with expatriate communities is that they tend to be mutually interested in maintaining ties with their country of origin due to various reasons including economic opportunities, a desire to support family and friends and even to contribute towards national development. Identifying and communicating opportunities, as well as facilitating ventures through simpler processes and incentives are some measures that can be taken to achieve this win-win outcome.

In short, while some young people have recently shown a greater desire to migrate, this scenario presents both challenges as well as opportunities. Young migrants residing abroad maintain a significant potential to contribute to Sri Lanka’s development if they are proactively engaged. However, such initiatives should be carried out with caution since false commitments and major inconveniences can dishearten and discourage migrant communities from further attempts at maintaining ties with their motherland.

Link to the full Talking Economics Blog: https://www.ips.lk/talkingeconomics/2022/02/07/youth-migration-challenges-and-opportunities-for-sri-lanka/

Thisuri is a Research Assistant working on migration and urbanisation policy research at IPS. She holds a BA (Honours) in Economics from the University of Colombo. Thisuri participated in the 2020 IMF Fund Challenge and was selected to present a paper at the FISU World Conference on Innovation, Education and Sport in Lucerne, Switzerland. As an undergraduate, Thisuri received a scholarship for obtaining the best results in the first-year examination of the Faculty of Arts. (Talk with Thisuri: thisuri@ips.lk)



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Wing Commander (Retd.) D. Pradeep S. Kannangara elected president, Industrial Security Foundation

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The Industrial Security Foundation (ISF) which acts as the sole organization in Sri Lanka to represent the Private Security industry having incorporated by an Act passed in the Parliament, Act No. 51 of 1999, elected Wing Commander (Retd.) Pradeep Kannangara as its President for the years 2022/2023 at its 30th annual General Meeting which was held at the PIM Auditorium in Borella. Wing Commander Pradeep Kannangara was appointed President while 14 other members were appointed to the Executive Committee, strengthening the ISF in order to drive and uplift the standards of the private security industry in Sri Lanka.

He has served on the ExCo consecutively since 2012 under four different presidents where he held the positions of Senior Vice President during the last three consecutive years. He has also been a committed member of the ISF and was awarded prestigious coveted FISF title due to his many valuable contributions to the organization and the Private Security Industry in Sri Lanka in 2012.

Wing Commander Kannangara’s journey into private security began after a successful career in the Sri Lanka Air Force for over 24 years where he served in many capacities finally being the Officer Commanding of the Special Air Borne Force. A recipient of the Ranasura Padakkama (RSP) Gallantry award for his bravery, sacrifices and service to the nation by the President of the Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka in 1990. He holds a Master’s in business management from the Edith Cowan University, Perth, Australia too and serves as a Board Director in AB Securitas (Private) Limited in Sri Lanka and AB Securitas Bangladesh Limited.

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Kitchen & Bedroom reaffirms its partnership with Häfele Sri Lanka

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(L-R) Pawan Singh- General Manager Sales & Marketing at Hafele Sri Lanka, Jurgen Wolf- Managing Director Hafele South Asia, Dr. Sacquaff- Group CEO Kitchen & Bedroom, and Manish Mahajan, Director Sales Hafele South Asia

Kitchen & Bedroom, a name synonymous in the interior designing and furniture sector in the country recently celebrated its long-standing partnership with Häfele Sri Lanka during the latter’s 12th year anniversary celebratory event, reaffirming its ambitious plans to further strengthen and explore the numerous opportunities available here.

Häfele Sri Lanka, part of Häfele India which is a wholly owned subsidiary of the Hafele Global network, is a technology partner for various projects and initiatives of Kitchen & Bedroom. Both the companies operate in the interior design space, sharing their cumulative knowledge and expertise to provide extensive and personalized solutions catering to domestic requirements.

‘We take great pride in our association with Häfele Sri Lanka having exchanged and collaborated on many projects both commercial and household. We share similar values such as providing high quality, sustainable, functional and customized solutions to our customers, and most importantly to guide them through every aspect and step of the project and how best we could bring out their desired design,’ said Dr. Sacquaff, Kitchen & Bedroom Group CEO.

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DSI strengthens its islandwide presence with three new showrooms

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Amid the prevailing economic hardships faced by Sri Lanka, Sri Lanka’s premier footwear brand DSI recently expanded its islandwide presence in the country with the opening of three new showrooms in Kahawatta, Akuressa, and Chavakachcheri, with the aim of offering greater access to its diversified product range to a wider customer base.

Gracing the special occasion, the showrooms were declared open by D. Samson & Sons (Pvt.) Ltd. Managing Director Thusitha Rajapaksa, in the presence of Director Asanka Rajapaksa, General Manager Pradeep Samarathunga, National Sales Manager – Retail Sales Naleen Weerawardana, invitees, and well-wishers.

Speaking at the opening ceremony, Thusitha Rajapaksa stated: “We are excited about expanding DSI wings to three new locations. Despite the ongoing economic conditions of the country, we took a call to take a proactive measure to expand our islandwide presence. While it has been a challenge, the commitment and hard work of our team has made it possible to serve our loyal customers better, and we are confident that we will be able to continue these efforts in the future as well.”

DSI is renowned for its well-trained staff who offer exceptional customer service. The three new DSI showrooms prioritize providing a unique service and customer support to make purchasing further convenient for the customer.

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