Mar 22, 2020

9,000 Lankans left high and dry as virus ban hits foreign jobs

Between 8,000 and 9,000 Sri Lankans who were poised to travel aboard on foreign employment are now stuck in limbo—with most having given up their local jobs—and may soon start demanding refunds from agents who are also helpless in the face of the Covid-19 pandemic.

“Our trade is in tatters,” said P.S. Selvaratnam, Assistant Secretary of the Association of Licensed Foreign Employment Agents (ALFEA) and Chairman/Managing Director of Selco Continental (Pvt) Ltd. “We cannot do the recruitment, which means sourcing, interviewing, pre-screening and selecting the people.”

“We also cannot carry out the second phase,” he said. “That is, once the selections are done, the employers will send the visas. We send the people for medical and Sri Lanka Foreign Employment Bureau (SLBFE) formalities, buy the tickets and deploy them.”

On March 13, the SLBFE restricted Sri Lankans from leaving on foreign employment until Covid-19 is brought under control.

“The immediate effect was that all those who are meant to be travelling—around 8,000 to 9,000 a month—now cannot go,” Mr Selvaratnam said. “Their visas have come, they have their tickets and they are ready to depart. But the airports are closed and other countries have stopped people from arriving.”

Ninety-percent of Sri Lankan migrant workers are deployed by agencies, he continued. “When the agencies don’t have revenue, they cannot function, run their offices and meet overheads. There is now no money coming in. We are also not receiving requirements from employers and this means the numbers we sent out per month come to a standstill.”

The health emergency numbers are – 0710107107 and 011-3071073

If you have travelled to Sri Lanka from abroad between March 1 and 20 and wish to register with the authorities — 119; 011-2444480; 011-2444481; 011-5978720; 011-5978730; and 011-5978734.

If you need to travel to hospital in the event of an emergency, you can proceed during curfew times after explaining your situation to the police, Deputy Inspector General Ajith Rohana said.

Prospective migrant workers who were on the brink of leaving are also in trouble because “almost all” have left their jobs. Therefore, their families are also affected. In the longer run, the situation will hit foreign exchange inflows which play a major role in the country’s economy.

Mr Selvaratnam urged Government support in several areas, including the provision of grants or long-term loans that will also cover prospective migrant workers who gave up their jobs and sources of income in anticipation of going abroad. Embassies need to be canvassed to re-issue visas without charging fees afresh. And airlines must be requested to re-issue tickets without cancellation or no-show charges.

Of an estimated 800 licensed foreign employment agents countrywide, 300 are ALFEA members.

Latest SLBFE statistics available online show that total departures for foreign employment in 2017 decreased by 12.6% compared to the previous year. There was a 7.2 percent drop in departures through private sources and a drop of 22 percent in recruitment by licensed foreign employment agencies. Nevertheless, a total of 212,162 left for foreign employment in 2017.


(Except for the headline, this story, originally published by as not been edited by SLM staff)