Recognizing the tremendous benefits that Sri Lankan migrant workers bring to the national economy and society and the risks they face through their foreign employment, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) will continue to support the Ministry of Foreign Employment in the implementation of its long term vision and commitment to labour migration as enshrined in the 2008 National Labour Migration Policy. The Policy is currently under review and aims to address migrants’ rights, protection and welfare. Along with a large outgoing workforce, Sri Lanka is gradually evolving into a country of destination for several thousand migrant workers from neighboring countries as a result of labour shortages in certain job sectors. Hence, there is a need for IOM’s policy and operational support to the government in planning and implementing effective inbound labour migration processes and frameworks for the first time in the country.

Promoting Ethical Recruitment

In the regulation and implementation of the recruitment process in Sri Lanka there still remain shortcomings and loopholes that challenge the National Labour Migration Policy and its goal towards the fulfillment and protection of all human and labour rights of migrant workers. The regulation of the industry is important to ensure the prevention of exploitation and abuse of migrant workers in Sri Lanka and in key countries of destination.

The Policy section on governance of the migration process calls for the Government to regulate the recruitment industry through administrative policies and procedures, licensing schemes, codes of conduct, monitoring and penal provisions to address offences. The government has made efforts to ensure the effective implementation of the Policy and subsequently has developed a Code of Ethical Conduct (CoEC) with the intention of streamlining the practices and enhancing the professionalism of the recruitment industry.

IOM will contribute to the fostering of ethical and fair recruitment practices and processes within the recruitment industry at national and district levels in a rights based and migrant-friendly manner by: a) piloting the establishment of a “Middlemen Voluntary Registration” system for the registration of intermediaries in the recruitment industry; b) developing standard operating procedures and delivering training of trainers around the CoEC, and; c) strengthening Sri Lankan diplomatic missions labour attachés’ capacity in countries of destination by assisting with formalizing a validation process for foreign recruitment agencies.

Furthermore, IOM will seek to build complementarity with its own other existing projects and initiatives, including the IOM’s International Recruitment Integrity System (IRIS) and will explore new and innovative approaches to continue promoting ethical and fair recruitment practices and processes in a migrant-friendly manner.

Enhanced Pre-Departure Orientation

Migrant workers often experience substantial barriers to integration in the destination country’s work force and larger society. Many migrants are not well informed regarding their rights and responsibilities under local labour laws in countries of destination, thereby increasing their vulnerability to exploitation, abuse, and breaches of labour contractual rights. In addition, migrants’ lack of awareness of cultural norms and practices in countries of destination can lead to social friction, miscommunication, and conflict with employers and local community members. Such challenges may result in adverse impacts on individual employers and workers, as well as economies and societies as a whole, not only in countries where they are employed but also in origin countries, by breeding mistrust between countries and their nationals.

A Comprehensive Information and Orientation Programme (CIOP) for migrant workers was adopted in 2014 by the member states of the Abu Dhabi Dialogue (ADD)7 as a regional initiative initially led by the government of the Philippines. Following IOM’s engagement in the Pre-Departure Orientation (PDO) component of CIOP, including a mapping of national PDO Programmes in countries of origin of the ADD and the development of a regional guide for PDO and PDO Management System (PMS), the ADD Permanent Secretariat invited ADD member states to identify interested pairings for the phase II of CIOP; Sri Lanka was paired with the UAE. Alongside Pre-Departure and Post-Arrival Orientation, Pre-Employment Orientation will be rolled out in the CIOP’s Phase II. IOM will assist with the implementation of this initiative in Sri Lanka by targeting those who are contemplating work overseas but have not yet made this decision, in order to help prospective migrants assess whether overseas employment is a suitable choice, thereby positively influencing their decision-making process.

Support to Inbound Migration Management

Sri Lanka has seen a significant increase in foreign investment and tourist arrivals since the end of the conflict. With mega investment projects such as the Colombo Port City, Hambantota Port and the signing of several Free Trade Agreements (FTAs) with neighbouring countries, the arrival numbers of foreign nationals and migrant workers on both resident and work visas will rapidly increase. Amongst other measures, the government is taking steps to introduce a new employment visa regime in line with these developments and in accordance with the proposed FTAs with China, India and Singapore.

To address the labour gap in the construction industry and in other sectors, the government plans to recruit migrant workers from Asian countries to meet this immediate need while remaining cognizant of the need to ensure migrant rights are protected in the process.

With the objective of supporting the government’s efforts to establish a well-managed inbound migration system, in collaboration with the DIE and other relevant government ministries, IOM will seek means and avenues to offer its advice and services to the government for the development and implementation of a robust Inbound Migrant Management Solution (IMMS) in coordination and consultation with all concerned government and non-government actors.

Regional Labour Migration Initiatives

Aware of the importance to enhance dialogue and cooperation amongst labour sending and receiving countries, bilaterally, regionally and internationally, and building upon IOM’s extended support to the Sri Lankan chairmanship of the Colombo Process (CP), vested with the leadership of the Minister of Foreign Employment Promotion between 2013 and 2017, IOM in Sri Lanka will continue to provide technical assistance to the CP under the leadership of the chairing country (currently Nepal).

The Colombo Process is a Regional Consultative Process on the management of overseas employment and contractual labour for countries of origins in Asia. It is a member state-driven, non-binding and informal forum that facilitates dialogue and cooperation on issues of common interest and concern relating to labour mobility. The CP was established in 2003 in response to calls from several Asian labour-sending countries who increasingly recognized the need for optimizing the benefits of organized labour migration whilst protecting their migrants from exploitative practices in recruitment and employment.

The current membership of the Colombo Process consists of 12 Member States and 8 Observer Countries. Under the leadership of the Chairing country, the Member States regularly meet for Senior Officials Meetings and Ministerial Meetings to advance their commitments to the four principal objectives and thematic priorities. The Member States also implement programmes and projects both at the national and regional levels in partnership with IOM, UN agencies, development partners and countries of destination in pursuit of the thematic priorities.

In the frame of its regional labour migration programme, IOM in Sri Lanka currently operates a Colombo Process Technical Support Unit (CPTSU) based in Colombo through which a number of mutually reinforcing activities are implemented in line with the current thematic priorities of the CP which include: a) Skills and Qualification Recognition Processes; b) Fostering Ethical Recruitment; c) Pre-departure Orientation and Empowerment; d) Remittances, and; e) Labour Market Analysis. IOM will continue to provide technical support to the CP through its CPTSU in the implementation of activities in support of current priorities and will explore means for continued support to the CP in new thematic areas or initiatives as required during the strategy cycle.