In recent news, Finance State Minister Eran Wickramaratne had mentioned about changing the Sri Lankan immigration laws to let information communication technology (ICT) workers migrate to Sri Lanka easily.
According to the article in Daily Mirror, he had stated, “The position that came from the industry was very simple. Annually they will decide the skill sets they need and give him (the immigration and emigration controller) the list and let him make a decision on the spot. Then review the list from time to time depending on the needs of the economy.”
Sri Lanka, as an underdeveloped economy, should try to model itself with aspirations to reach higher statuses. In any developed economy, the practice is to verify that the skill of the migrant worker meets the industry need by a professional accreditation committee. This is to make sure that the migration inflow is productive to the economy and to safeguard the local professionals and their professions along with the standards of the industry.
The current implementations around the world had taken measures to make sure the migrant skill workers contribute to the economy, not only by immediately filling the skill gap but also by training more professionals to that level in the long run, thus sustaining the positive output to the local economy. To achieve such a standard, getting relevant professional bodies involved in the process is vital.
In the current proposal, there seems not to be such an involvement from the professional bodies, according to Wickramaratne. It is however funny that Wickramaratne states that the process will be like what Australia and New Zealand use, where as they use their professional association, such as Australian Computer Society, play a major part in that decision-making. However, what looks like is that the government is rushing to legislate a migration law without even thinking through how it’s going to work.
As of now, none of the professional associations related to ICT had been informed or consulted related to this matter. And the questions remain how we are going to manage and execute this process without having to regret.
Passing a legislation to amend migration law is a matter of sovereignty and the national security of a country and cannot be looked light upon and done without the correct evaluation.
Furthermore, as Wickramaratne states, the industry will decide the skill set that is needed. In the Sri Lankan context, there is no such practice currently and more importantly, this must be raised not only by the businesses, which focus on profit-making but as a combination of business and professional bodies to maintain the quality of the industry and its professionals.
For example, if the business owners demand project managers, it could also be the case that the business owners think that the qualified project managers’ salaries are high, where the current available project managers are highly qualified.
A professional body working along in this decision-making will make sure that the current project managers are not being put in harm’s way. Instead, it will use its authority and involvement to make sure that the migrant project managers allowed only after the local project managers are being employed. If this is not maintained, the growth for the professionals in Sri Lanka will be damaged by the influx of under-skilled, low-quality set of professionals widening the actual skill gap of the country.
The problem at hand – even though the government officials mention that this is only for the ICT industry, once the migration laws are relaxed by the legislators for one profession, with trade liberalization agenda in the back of their head, they could create backdoors in the legislation to implementing this for other professions with a stroke of a pen.
It is important to understand the two-faced, dishonest practices some of these officials had practiced through the last couple of years. When the Economic and Technical Cooperation Agreement (ETCA) was proposed, the government started consulting the professional bodies and representatives after the extensive lobbying these professionals did, showing the inappropriateness of what the government was trying to do – open up the industry for Indian workers. (The ETCA also started mentioning that they are going to open up only ICT and shipbuilding but later intergovernmental negotiations had other professions added to the list, including agriculture and healthcare).
It is while these discussions were going ahead with the government and professionals that the government is now trying to implement a migration relaxation – a step in typical trade liberalization implementations. The professionals who were genuinely involved in the process were also caught by surprise with the new statements by Wickramaratne.
ICT itself is an important industry in the current global market. There are countries such as Singapore and Israel, which became global giants using their skilled workforces intelligently in the global tech market. Sri Lankan professionals are in a slow march in getting the industry into better levels with less to no backing up from the government.
In the current global tech market India is a competitor with high quantity but the Sri Lankan industry had proven that we outsmart them with the quality. We will never be able to meet the numbers with Indian tech giants when it comes to providing resources in numbers but we have a higher chance in winding the quality gap and reaching higher and better foreign investments with the quality of service.
ICT is far from BPOs and call centres. There are more research and development areas, innovations and tech services that need quality resources. Stuck in an expired education system, our ICT skill quality depends on the industry standards that mentor the skill levels.
If we flood the markets with low-quality ICT workers, the next generation will become useless in a global ICT market. This is why it is important to implement the skill migration with correct accreditation infrastructure, using the correct professional bodies so this step will help in bridging the skill gap instead of killing a blooming industry.
(Indika Gamage is President of Sri Lanka Information Technology Professionals’ Association)
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