Will changing labour migration flow impact Sri Lanka’s remittances?

Will changing labour migration flow impact Sri Lanka’s remittances?

Will changing labour migration flow impact Sri Lanka’s remittances?

Written by Staff Writer

19 Dec, 2016 | 7:24 pm

Sri Lanka’s inward remittances have declined 0.54 percent to 6,980 million US dollars in 2015 from 7,018 million US dollars in 2014 owing to a drop in female migrant worker departures and housemaids, a study has found.

A study by Bilesha Weeraratne, a research fellow at the Institute of Policy Studies(IPS) shows that total departures in 2015 have declined to 263,307 from 300,703 in 2014 with the share of females among migrant worker departures further declining in 2015 to 34 percent from 37 percent in 2014.

The share of housemaids also continued to shrink to 28 percent in 2015 from 30 percent in 2014. The study says concerted policy efforts, mandatory requirements such as the ‘Family Background Report’, pre-departure training and upgrading skill training have transformed the low-skill oriented migrant worker flow to a more up-skilled and male-centric flow.

“2015 marked the first year since 1994, where the share of housemaids dipped below that of skilled workers (31%). Other skills groups, such as professionals and semi-skilled groups also experienced growth to reach shares of 2.4 % and 2%, respectively,” Weeraratne said.

The study titled, Decrease in Remittances in 2015: Glitch or Beginning of the End? says compared to males, females are more reliable remitters. This reliability stems from the greater involvement of females with the operation of the left behind household, and their tendency to sacrifice more than males for family back at home. Additionally, females also tend to remit more as a self-insurance mechanism against possible negative shocks at the destination.

The recent policy efforts to discourage the departure of female workers have inadvertently also contributed to reducing the number of reliable remitters to Sri Lanka. Despite being less reliable, when they do remit, males are noted to remit more.

The reason behind such higher remittances from males is due to their capacity to earn higher wages than women in similar jobs. This has the potential to offset the less reliability of male remittances with a larger amount of remittances when they do remit. Similarly, the progressive up-skilling of the migrant worker from Sri Lanka also contributes towards a rising share of higher wage earners among all migrant worker departures and their corresponding higher remittances.

There is evidence that migration of skilled workers is often associated with tied migration – where spouse accompany migrant workers. In a patriarchal society like in Sri Lanka, when male migrant worker shares are rising there is a higher tendency for tied migration of wives to take place.

Similarly, regardless of gender, better-skilled migrants also tend to induce tied migration from Sri Lanka. Extending this tied-migration beyond spouses, better-skilled migrants from Sri Lanka are also enticed to take their children especially to enjoy higher education options overseas.

All this amounts to the absence of immediate family members to receive regular remittances. Another aspect of skilled migration is that the better-skilled migrant workers often have opportunities to pursue other destinations to migrate subsequently. This may alter the circular nature of labour migration from Sri Lanka towards a pattern of step migration where migrants leave the first destination not to return to Sri Lanka, but to head to a second destination.

The decline of circular migration and rise in step migration would also lead to weaker links with the home country and a corresponding decrease in remittances. Despite being recognised as temporary migrants, high-skilled migrants tend to continue foreign employment for multiple contract periods. Such residence and employment in destination for extended periods resemble more permanent characteristics of migration.

As a result, such extended stays also leads to weaker links with the home country and a corresponding decrease in remittances. In the context of gender reversal and up-skilling of labour migrants, the receipt of higher remittances are challenged by two sets of competing forces.  

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