Worker migration crashes 73.6% in 2020
By Mario Andree
Sri Lanka witnessed a major crash in departures for foreign employment during 2020 due to the rapid spread of the COVID-19 pandemic, forcing countries to go on lockdowns, ceasing employment opportunities.
According to the Central Bank of Sri Lanka, in 2020 departures for foreign employment declined 73.6 per cent to 53,713 individuals from 203,087 in 2019.
The Central Bank partly attributed the drastic drop in departures to the temporary ban imposed by the Sri Lanka Bureau of Foreign Employment (SLBFE) on departures of migrant workers registered with them.
Further, travel restrictions at labour receiving countries, suspension of recruitment of foreign workers, and reduced demand for migrant labour were also highlighted as causes.
Both male and female departures for foreign employment declined 73.5 per cent and 73.7 per cent, respectively, in 2020 compared to 2019.
In line with the decline in total departures for foreign employment, departures for foreign employment under all skilled categories, namely, professional, middle level, clerical and related, skilled, semi-skilled, unskilled and housemaid, declined drastically in 2020 compared to the previous year.
Meanwhile, the Middle East region continued to remain the main foreign employment destination in 2020 as well, accounting for 82.0 per cent of the total departures for foreign employment.
However, the departures for foreign employment to the Middle East region declined by 74.5 per cent, compared to 2019.
Sri Lankan migrant workers were severely affected by the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic in the labour receiving countries.
With the spread of the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic in the European region, a large number of Sri Lankan migrant workers returned to the country at the beginning of 2020.
Since the closure of the airports to incoming commercial flights in order to prevent the transmission of COVID-19 into Sri Lanka, a considerable number of migrant workers looked forward to being repatriated.
The need for repatriation amplified amidst the panic with regard to health risks, and contract expirations, job losses and pay cuts resulting from the economic downturn caused by the pandemic.