My dual citizenship form, which I promptly lost in an airport.
The government has called for expats and business to return. I think this is great, but we should welcome them back. Right now repatriating is a royal pain in the ass and in many cases impossible. I know ‘foreigners’ who have lived here for decades and still have to get their visa renewed every year. I know young people (and old) trying to get their dual citizenship and going through hell. We ask people to come, but we don’t make it easy for them. We should.
Repatriation and Immigration
I am a dual citizen. This process took about 2 years and Rs. 200,000. I was new here and without my mother and grandmother helping (doing, really) I would have given up. For me it was relatively easy because my parents had registered my birth in Canada with the Sri Lankan government, the Ministry Of Defence I think. Under some act that gave me the right to assume citizenship by age 21.
However, if your birth is not registered you need a boatload of paperwork and accreditation, and the process is strangely biased towards men rather than women. It’s much easier if you have a Sri Lankan father than a mother, for some weird reason. If you are, god forbid, someone ‘foreign’ who wants to immigrate to Sri Lanka it’s well nigh impossible. It simply does not compute. We have a well established migration system, but almost nothing for immigration. It’s not like people are swimming across the Palk Strait to get here, but there are some chaps that want to immigrate and they can contribute.
Investment and Property Rights
We ask for foreign investment, but you simply cannot do business without property rights. Right now foreigners pay 100% tax on land. I guess that’s OK in some contexts, but there should be some procedure where foreigners that want to do business (rather than speculate) can do so on a competitive basis. If someone wants to come here, build a factory, shop, whatever and create jobs they should be able to do so with some assurance that they won’t get screwed by their local partner. Right now you can invest with a local partner or by forming a company or whatever, but that is fundamentally insecure from an investment perspective.
The biggest problem with getting foreign investment is offering them security, and some form of property right is the best way to do this. You are able to go through the BOI and I’ve talked to BOI guys in Trinco who say it’s easy. From a few investors, however, I hear that it’s not. Rajaratala discusses it in more detail, but I think the BOI is a sort of hack on the normal economy which actually causes a bit of problems. Rather than making a side door we may want to just fix the front.
Property rights in general are a mess. The courts are clogged with land disputes, squatting tenants, feuding families. I used to think property rights were something of an indulgence for rich people, but no small or medium business (foreign or local) can really grow without real estate to borrow against. We try to work around this with BOI zones and things, but at some point we need to actually work out property rights for everybody, so the economy can grow. Cases I know of personally is that the car park in the middle of Kandy is somehow a BOI zone (rare in a city center) and that dudes in Anuradhapura need to go through 48 steps and so many years to get deeds. Locals have problems and foreigners/expats have them double. At some point we need to straighten out property rights in general.
This is all boring shit, but it’s sorta a prerequisite for the repatriation the President has called for. People need to be able to A) live here and B) buy property. Right now these things are possible, but hair-pullingly painful. For many good people they are actually not humanly possible at all. I personally know many foreigners, half-breeds and people born abroad who want to live here and contribute to the country but don’t feel welcomed. In fact, they almost feel rejected. We’re asking people to come back. We should welcome them.
Note: This post started from an article on Foriegn Investment and Ownership by the ever insightful Rajaratala/Ratmale