People are freaking out about a trade agreement with India that would allow IT professionals to work (relatively) freely across the border. The main argument seems to be that INDIANS ARE COMING and that they’ll steal our jobs. I think they’re wrong. Open borders and immigration are an ethical and economic good. If we want Sri Lanka to be globally competitive, we need to free the labor. India is just a start.
Singapore Or North Korea
The question is really whether we want to be like Singapore (40% foreign population) or a closed economies like, say, North Korea. Singapore thrives by offering open doors to skilled workers and they are able to attract the best talent, and create the best economy for their own workers.
They of course couple this policy with wage requirements (people earning over $1,800 can apply, people earning over $2,500 can bring their family) and an education and social system that really helps their people. I do agree that the government needs to do a lot more to improve our education system (including perhaps getting us access to Indian schools) and support for our own people (payment gateways pls). However, opening up immigration will still make our companies more competitive.
The main question is whether you want to create globally competitive companies in Sri Lanka. Globally competitive companies get the best people for the job, period. The current CEOs of both Microsoft and Google are Indians because fuck it, win. The major economies in the world thrive on immigrant labor – the US, Canada, UK, Singapore, etc. The only sorta exception is China, but that’s a world unto itself.
Sri Lanka doesn’t have that option. We need to bring in the best and yes, if needed, the cheapest labor for the job. We have to get out of this mentality of this is the only pie we have and we just need to keep dividing it. Just GROW THE PIE. If we get internationally competitive companies we can create many more jobs, have many more people spending into the economy here and we can have a much bigger and better economy for everyone.
Good For Goose, Good For Gander
And, honestly, Sri Lankans complaining about immigration is a bit rich. We have almost 2 million people living or working abroad and we personally feel like we deserve work visas for wherever we want to go. And we do, because our labor adds billions of dollars of value to economies all over the world. We’ve had Sri Lankans at Facebook, at NASA, and at major companies all over the world. Those Sri Lankans didn’t take jobs away from those countries, they helped grow their economies to create more.
No One Has To Hire Indians
What opponents of free labor between here and India cite is articles showing PhD graduates applying for a peon’s job or generally statistics that there are millions of unemployed in India. But this makes no sense.
It’s not like workers are some monsoon that comes crashing down on our shores. Firms have to choose to hire people. IT firms are doing this already under the BOI. This just makes it simpler, more transparent, and less dependent on bureaucratic whims.
And this also makes it easier for Sri Lankans to work in India. This means that our IT professionals won’t be limited to working for Virtusa or WSO2 or whatever – they can easily apply to FlipKart or Zomato (grrrr) or any number of world-class, billion dollar Indian companies.
The Human Aspect
It is also important to remember the human aspect, which is that people should be able to move and work where they best fit. I personally think that opening up to India is only one part of the puzzle. Sri Lanka needs to open up to the world. For a long time we have been closed and our best talent has been flowing abroad. We need to reverse that and attract the best talent here.
The question is whether you want to keep dividing up what we have or make our economy a global powerhouse – like Singapore but better. If you have big dreams you need to take little risks to make them happen. Opening up free movement of labor with India in the IT industry is just the first step. We need to do more.