A friend of mine just left Sri Lanka because it was hard for him to find work and he had no possible path to citizenship or safely starting a business of his own. Because he’s a foreign national. Sri Lanka has no real path to immigration and officials can be downright hostile to people that even consider migrating here. Even dual citizenship has been suspended for years, limiting out access to talent in the diaspora. Compare this to other countries that actually compete to get skilled immigrants. In this regard, Sri Lanka doesn’t compete at all.
On one side there’s the human cost. The lack of immigration policy harms relationships and weakens families. Spouses depend on their local partner for their residence visa and have no real right even to be with their kids. It is also hard for foreign nationals to start business, which would be fine, expect that there’s no real path for them to become dual citizens either. It’s really unfair to a lot of people.
On the other side, this lack of policy also weakens Sri Lanka. Here’s how American lawmakers describe immigration:
In a speech on the floor of the Senate, Senator Moran [R-KS], one of the proposers of Startup Act 2.0, summed up the urgency of the need for the bill – “The future of our country’s economic competitiveness depends on America winning the global battle for talent. The Department of Commerce projects [Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics] jobs to grow by 17 percent in the years ahead. We have to retain more of the highly-skilled and talented individuals we educate in America to remain competitive in the global economy. Doing so will fuel American economic growth and result in the creation of jobs for more Americans.” (via Andrew Sullivan)
In Sri Lanka, however, they’re talking about having the Defence Secretary (Gotabhaya Rajapaksa) personally interview each applicant, a process which – done one a day – would take 5 1/2 years just to clear the backlog.
If a Sri Lankan startup wants to recruit a world-class engineer it’s really difficult and if they want to recruit more than two (there’s a set number of foreign nationals you can have, I think it’s two) it’s basically impossible. If, god forbid, that engineer falls in love and wants to settle here, she’ll never be secure because she’ll depend on her spouse and/or job for her place here and can at anytime be separated from her children and everything she’s built.
More broadly, Sri Lankans talk about attracting foreign investment, but if we make no attempt to attract foreign or diaspora human capital, we’re competing with one hand behind our back. Sri Lanka needs a sane immigration policy if we want to be a global competitor, and if we want to simply preserve the different types of families that grace our shores.