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Youth migration: Challenges and opportunities for Sri Lanka



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.


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.


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:

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:

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Hela Apparel Holdings completes FY 2022/23 with resilience, amidst a challenging operating environment



The fourth quarter of FY 2022/23 marked the close of a challenging year for Hela Apparel Holdings PLC. While revenue of Rs. 20.5 Bn in Q4 represented a 40.6% increase in the same period of the previous year, this was primarily driven by the impact of the rupee depreciation. In US Dollar terms, quarterly revenue declined by 9.6% year-on-year. The drop in US Dollar revenue, however, is smaller than the 19.7% year-on-year decline recorded during Q3, as consumer demand in the Group’s key export markets remained relatively resilient.

The tentative stabilisation in demand conditions during the fourth quarter, alongside the proactive cost control measures taken by the organization contributed to an improvement in profit margins. The Group’s gross profit margin increased to 13.5% in Q4, compared to 10.0% in Q3, as capacity utilisation rates improved across the Group’s manufacturing facilities. Operating profit margins also improved, supported by greater optimisation of distribution and administration expenses. That said, elevated finance costs driven by the ongoing rise in global US Dollar interest rates were a significant drag on profitability. As a result, the Group recorded a post-tax loss of Rs. 257 Mn in the fourth quarter.

For the full year ended 31st March 2023, the Group’s revenue increased by 69.3% to Rs. 95.1 Bn. Nonetheless, the significant deterioration in market conditions during H2 eroded accumulated profits, and the Group closed the year with a post-tax loss of Rs. 1,038 Mn. Despite this, Hela’s balance sheet remained in a robust position with the Net-Debt-to-Equity ratio closing FY 2022/23 at 1.6, compared to 1.8 at the same point of the previous year, supported by improvements in the working capital cycle.

In a statement accompanying the financial results, the Company noted that it expects the challenging operating environment to continue into the first half of FY 2023/24 as consumers in its key export markets remain under pressure from high inflation. In this context, it will continue to focus on proactively strengthening its strategic customer partnerships based on its long-term value proposition as a leading global apparel supply chain solutions provider.

The organization also intends to remain agile in the evolving operating environment and consider additional proactive steps to manage costs and ensure a return to profitability. Several of the strategic initiatives taken during FY 2022/23, with a precise focus on process improvements, digital systems, and supply chain management are also expected to support the improvements in profit margins in the coming quarters.

Hela Apparel Holdings PLC is a social capital-focused company built on the principles of inclusivity, equity, and climate stability. With over three decades of industry experience, Hela focuses on building strategic partnerships with global brands to provide apparel supply chain solutions with distinctive advantages. The organisation has a global presence with 10 manufacturing facilities across Sri Lanka, Kenya, Ethiopia, and Egypt, as well as design centres in Sri Lanka, the US, the UK, and France, providing direct employment to over 20,000 people. Innovative, ethical, and sustainable apparel manufacturing is at the centre of Hela’s operations. With numerous accolades for sustainability, the organization was recently endorsed as a signatory to the UN Global Compact and was awarded the ISO 14064-1:2018 certification for quantification and reporting of greenhouse gas emissions across the Group for the second consecutive year.

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Calais Dentelles announces the sale of ‘NOYON’ – Noyon Lanka acquires 100 years of lace heritage



From left to right: Sébastien Bento Soares (Directeur Général - CEO of Calais Dentelles), Pascal Cochez (Chairman of Cochez group and Calais dentelles), Olivier Noyon (Shareholder - Noyon Lanka) and Ashiq Lafir (CEO - Noyon Lanka Pvt. Ltd.).

In groundbreaking industry news, Noyon Lanka (Pvt) Ltd., a subsidiary of MAS Holdings, and DESSEILLES CALAIS, a subsidiary of the CALAIS DENTELLES holding company, announced the sale of NOYON CALAIS’ IP rights and other intangible assets to Noyon Lanka.

NOYON CALAIS is a French lace manufacturer known for a 100+ years of heritage in the industry. This Intellectual Property (IP) acquisition now positions Noyon Lanka as an industry leader in lace manufacturing, combining the legacy and heritage of NOYON CALAIS SAS and MAS Holdings’ technical competency and manufacturing excellence. This sale gives the opportunity for the French business DESSEILLES CALAIS to focus on their main luxury core market.

The IP and other assets acquired enable Noyon Lanka to draw inspiration, create and commercialize lace products and manufacture lace products under the trademark ‘Noyon’. Additionally, Noyon Lanka will now be the owner of all ‘Noyon’ trademarks belonging to Noyon Calais and will own all their archives of sketches, drafts, and samples of lace and embroidery fabrics from the 19th and 20th centuries.

With the acquisition, Noyon Lanka enhances its ability to provide high-quality lace products to customers worldwide, drawing upon and preserving the rich history and heritage of lace manufacturing in France.

Noyon Lanka’s CEO, Ashiq Lafir, commenting on the acquisition, said, “This acquisition will enable us to expand our product design offerings and strengthen our leadership position in lace manufacturing globally. We are humbled and proud to take ownership of NOYON CALAIS’ remarkable legacy and combine it with our technical expertise to create beautiful, innovative lace products for our customers”.

Sébastien Bento Soares, the Directeur Général – CEO of CALAIS DENTELLES, the parent company of NOYON CALAIS, added that “This asset sale enables DESSEILLES CALAIS to focus on our core luxury market and ensures that the rich history and legacy of Noyon’s lace continues to effectively serve its long-time customers, who have come to rely on Noyon’s heritage in lace to provide some of the world foremost brands with the finest lace designs that their customers have adorned over many generations”.

Noyon Lanka was established in 2004 when Noyon Calais France, an industry expert in knitted and leavers lace, partnered with MAS Holdings. Today, Noyon’s lace creators and designers launch over 450 designs each year, with collections ranging from multi-way stretch, high tenacity lace to engineered lace for fabric.

In addition to its production facilities in Sri Lanka, the company has a global footprint with a manufacturing presence in Indonesia and China.

In the image from left to right: Sébastien Bento Soares (Directeur Général – CEO of Calais Dentelles), Pascal Cochez (Chairman of Cochez group and Calais dentelles), Olivier Noyon (Shareholder – Noyon Lanka) and Ashiq Lafir (CEO – Noyon Lanka Pvt. Ltd.).

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Nippon Paint Lanka sponsors painting of Sri Lanka’s tallest Buddha statue



Nippon Paint has donated the paint required to paint the tallest Buddha statue in Sri Lanka. Built by the Methsaviya Sansadaya, it is located at the Mahiyangana Purana Rajamaha Viharaya.

“History records Mahiyanganaya as the first place visited by the Lord Buddha nine months after receiving enlightenment,” said Vidyakeerthi Prof. Chandana Jayaratne, President of the Meth Saviya Sansadaya. “It is also recorded that the Lord Buddha donated a lock of hair to the leader of those who heard his preaching and embraced the noble path. This leader who was known as King Saman (Known today as Saman Deviyo), enshrined the relics and built the first Dagoba in Mahiyanganaya. This has been gradually increased in height during later years. On completion, this will be the tallest Buddha statue in Sri Lanka at 84-feet. The statue was unveiled on Sunday May, 28, 2023.”

Nemantha Abeysinghe, General Manager, Nippon Paint Lanka, said they were very happy to be associated in such a noble venture. “It is an honour for us to be able join the Meth Saviya Sansadaya to have the statue painted with high-quality, weather-resistant, and long-lasting Nippon Paint. Buddhism is the religion of the majority in Sri Lanka and we consider this as a contribution from Nippon Paint to the propagation of religion and culture in Sri Lanka.”

“We are deeply grateful to Nippon Paint Lanka for their noble gesture in donating not one but five coats of paint to withstand the heavy rains, winds and sunshine at this location,” Prof. Jayaratne said.

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