- Following concerns raised by professional bodies Govt. to present fresh mechanisms on work visas
- Changes targeted at foreign professionals likely to be transferred under trade deals including Singapore FTA
- Local professional bodies likely to be involved in evaluating qualifications of counterparts
- Concerns on potential delays of work visas to also be addressed
By Uditha Jayasinghe
Parallel to the Government’s multiple trade deals, it will introduce a new Cabinet paper in the next two weeks outlining fresh visa regulations targeting foreign professionals and a new mechanism to evaluate their qualifications, a top official said yesterday.
International Trade and Development Strategies Ministry Secretary Chandani Wijewardena told the Daily FT that following consultations with numerous professional bodies a decision had been made to address their main concern of significant numbers of professionals filtering into Sri Lanka as corporate transfers.
Several professional bodies had made representations to the ministry calling for a formalised process for vetting foreign professionals who may be transferred under foreign investment projects that could be made under trade deals, especially the Sri Lanka-Singapore Free Trade Agreement (FTA) signed in January.
“We wished to address the concerns of these professional bodies but there are challenges as some of these departments and institutions are under the purview of different ministries. Coordination between these bodies is a time consuming and difficult process so key priorities were selected to be addressed,” she said.
Even though foreign nationals can work in Sri Lanka under Board of Investment (BOI) projects the approval process was viewed as inadequate to tackle potential larger inflows of foreign professionals. The Singapore FTA only makes provisions for professionals who have at least five years of work experience, have worked at least a year in Singapore and can only work in the company they were originally employed at. Sri Lankan work visas will also be issued for a limited time and will need to be extended as necessary. However, local professional bodies had raised concerns that these safeguards needed to be further strengthened.
“Professional bodies were keen to have a system to evaluate the standards of qualifications held by their foreign counterparts. The new Cabinet paper would also stipulate timelines as investors would be concerned about how much time would be spent in getting approvals. Under the new regulations professional bodies would be able to provide input where possible on qualifications,” she assured.
Given the need to speed up visa recommendations the Ministry had, under the advice of the Legal Draftsman and with Cabinet approval, hired a retired legal draftsman to formulate the Cabinet paper. Once Cabinet approval is given a gazette notification will be issued. The Ministry is also coordinating with the Human Resource Council under the National Policies and Economic Affairs Ministry to further improve Government oversight and improve the mechanism for work visas. The Immigration and Emigration Department has also been consulted in formulating the new mechanism.