Connect with us


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:

Continue Reading
Click to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


Sri Lanka’s economic confidence index plummets



‘No one has rated Sri Lanka’s economic condition as excellent. 1.8 % rated it as good and 1.3 % rated it as getting better. The resulting score was a (-) 96. This rating was (-) 83 in January 2022, a wide ranging Verite Research public opinion survey reveals.

Key findings of the survey:

Government approval rating drops from 10% to 3%

The second round of the Gallup Style “Mood of the Nation” poll was conducted in June by Verité Research. It assessed the approval, satisfaction, and confidence of the nation in relation to the government, the country, and the economy.

The poll was conducted as a part of the syndicated survey instrument by Verité Research. This instrument also provides other organisations the opportunity to survey the sentiments of Sri Lanka.

1. Government approval rating | 3% | To the question, “Do you approve or disapprove of the way the current government is working?” only 3% said they approve. In January 2022 this rating was at 10%.

2. Sri Lanka satisfaction | 2% | To the question, “In general, are you satisfied or dissatisfied with the way things are going in Sri Lanka?” only 2% said they were satisfied. This rating was at 6% in January 2022.

3. Economic confidence | negative (-) 96 | Multiple choice questions on the condition and trajectory of the economy are used to generate an economic confidence score. The score can range from negative (-) 100 to positive (+) 100. A score above zero means more people see the economic conditions positively rather than negatively. If everyone thinks the economy is in either excellent or good condition, and everyone also thinks it is getting better, the score will be (+) 10. If everyone thinks that the economy is in a poor condition, and everyone also thinks it is getting worse, the score will be a (-) 100. No one rated the economic condition as excellent. 1.8% rated it as good; and 1.3% rated it as getting better. The resulting score was a (-) 96. This rating was (-) 83 in January 2022.

Implementation of “Mood of

the Nation”

The poll is based on an island wide nationally representative sample of responses from 1,052 Sri Lankan adults, conducted in June 2022. The sample and methodology was designed to ensure a maximum error margin of under 3% at a 95% confidence interval. The polling partner was Vanguard Survey (Pvt) Ltd.

Continue Reading


Decline in share market in the wake of rate hike reports



By Hiran H.Senewiratne

CSE trading activities began on a positive note yesterday but during the latter part of the day the market experienced a dip on account of the overall supply chain economy being subjected to a contraction, stemming from the fuel crisis. Consequently, CSE activities were relatively low keyed, market analysts said.

“We are reverting to the negative. There is uncertainty on all fronts, from the political to the economic. Therefore, we are expecting a rate hike on Thursday. This is creating a bit of a cloud and we may see this continuing further, a top market analyst said.

Even if top level decision- making is happening in Sri Lanka the impact is not felt at the grassroots level. This has resulted in unrest in the country, the analyst said.

Amid those developments, both indices moved downwards. The All- Share Price Index went down by 97.9 points and S and P SL20 declined by 34.3 points. Turnover stood at Rs 1.3 billion with one crossing. The crossing was reported in JKH, which crossed 600,000 shares to the tune of Rs 73.2 million, its shares traded at Rs 122.

In the retail market, the top seven companies that mainly contributed to the turnover were; Lanka IOC Rs 611 million (7.3 million shares traded), Expolanka Holdings Rs 173.9 million (one million shares traded). LOLC Holdings Rs 47.4 million (120,000 sha4es traded), Hayleys PLC Rs 46.5 million (697.000 shares traded), Browns Investments Rs 46.3 million (6.4 million shares traded), JKH Rs 21 million (173,000 shares traded) and Softlogic Holdings Rs 20.5 million (794,000 shares traded). During the day 109 million share volumes changed hands in 15000 transactions.

The International Monetary Fund said last Thursday its talks with crisis-hit Sri Lanka had been “constructive”, thereby raising hopes it would soon grant preliminary approval for a desperately needed financial support package, observers said.

Meanwhile, the Colombo Consumer Price index rose 54.6 per cent year-on-year in June against a 39.1 per cent rise in May, according to the Statistics Department.

Yesterday the US dollar rate was Rs 360.73, which is now being controlled due to the prudent fiscal and monetary policies of the Central Bank.

Continue Reading


Dialog Club vision members receive access to an exclusive screening of ‘Jurassic World Dominion’



In a bold and breath-taking new global adventure, the epic conclusion to the Jurassic film franchise ‘Jurassic World Dominion’ hit theatres across the world on June 10. Just a day after its global premiere, Dialog Club Vision Red members and their loved ones received special access to an exclusive screening of the film at the Kandy City Centre Multiplex on June 11.

The explosive end to the Jurassic era sees two generations of the film’s franchise unite for the first time with Hollywood’s Chris Pratt and Bryce Dallas Howard joined by Oscar winner Laura Dern, Jeff Goldblum and Sam Neill. Dialog Club Vision members were some of the first to witness the utopian world where Dinosaurs and humans co-exist.

With the best interests of its members and their loved ones at heart, Dialog Club Vision continues to deliver a world of exclusivity and privileges such as personalized care, exclusive discounts and offers, lifestyle and entertainment events and more. To explore more exciting offers available for Dialog Club Vision members, and to learn more about Sri Lanka’s premier loyalty programme, customers can visit the MyDialog App or visit

Continue Reading