The increase in the population of the Sri Lankan diaspora in the US, EU and Australia has been a critical reason for the emergence of the Sri Lankan diaspora as a foreign policy resource
Following trends in the increase in Sri Lankan diaspora in the EU, the US, and Australia, developing a sense of shared identity between Sri Lankans living abroad and their home country comes with practical benefits that the Sri Lankan Government should exploit.
The increase in the population of the Sri Lankan diaspora in the US, EU and Australia has been a critical reason for the emergence of the Sri Lankan diaspora as a foreign policy resource. The Sri Lankan diaspora is relatively large compared to the country’s overall population. It is nearly three million according to the demographic estimates of 2020, that is, one in eight Sri Lankans living abroad.
The EU, the US, and Australia are amongst the top destination regions for the Sri Lankan diaspora; others include Scandinavia, the Arab Gulf States, Southeast Asia, and North America. The increased presence of the Sri Lankan diaspora in the EU and the United States (US) is attributed to Sri Lanka’s western orientation of its foreign policy and its improved relations with the western world. This has seen a rise in the diplomatic ways of the Sri Lankan diaspora in the western world.
Why the EU, the US, and Australia?
The significance of the Sri Lankan diaspora to the nation has been a topic of concern for policymakers in recent years. This has been influenced by several factors, including increased international mobility. The increased interest of the Sri Lankan Government in its diaspora in high-income regions such as the EU, US and Australia is a reflection of a growing consensus amongst Sri Lankan policymakers that increased connections with the diaspora in these regions will be beneficial for Sri Lanka.
Increased interconnections with the Sri Lankan diaspora in these regions facilitate transnational connections and networks, hence increasing engagement with the diaspora. Notably, the increased prevalence of dialogues and policies designed to promote transnational linkages with the Sri Lankan diaspora in high-income regions and countries illustrates that engaging with the diaspora has become a top foreign policy priority for Sri Lanka.
According to the Pew Research Centre report, the Sri Lankan diaspora in the USA is generally educated and affluent, earning a median income of $ 74,000. The report also ranked the Sri Lankan diaspora as the third most successful Asian American group in the USA. The Australian Department of Foreign Affairs describes the Sri Lankan diaspora as a key contributor to strengthening Australia’s multicultural society and economy. These dynamics highlight the important role that the Sri Lankan diaspora in these regions can play in advancing Sri Lanka’s foreign policy objectives.
Some examples of notable personalities in the EU and US include Ranil Jayawardena, a United Kingdom (UK) parliamentarian: the then second runner up in the ‘Miss Italia 2019’ beauty contest held in Jesolo, Venice, Italy, Sevmi Tharuka Fernando, and New York born Julia Wijesinghe who is credited for the founding of the Sri Lankan Art and Cultural Museum amongst others.
How can Sri Lanka facilitate its engagement with the diaspora in the EU, the US and Australia?
For Sri Lanka to increase its engagements with its diaspora, it is imperative that the nation also provides incentives for engaging with its diaspora. In other words, the relationship between Sri Lanka and other Sri Lankans living abroad should be mutually beneficial. This way, Sri Lanka can create public and private partnerships with the diaspora. To this end, capacity-building initiatives between Sri Lanka and its diaspora in the US, the EU and Australia can help support the creation of a shared identity between both parties. Moreover, the Sri Lankan Government can also increase its engagements with its diaspora in the EU, the US and Australia through extending political rights to the diaspora such as dual citizenship and political participation.
For a small island nation like Sri Lanka, the contributions of the diaspora in developed nations and regions like the US, European Union and Australia are essential for the nation’s functioning. Notably, the Sri Lankan Government has noticed the potential of engaging with the diaspora to promote economic development, the flow of knowledge, investments, and professional linkages.
One way the Sri Lankan Government can achieve its diaspora engagement goals is by collecting data on its diaspora. This will help the Government learn more about the diasporic demography and how the Government can form mutually beneficial relationships with them.
(Dr. Srimal Fernando received his PhD in the area of International Affairs. He was the recipient of the prestigious O.P. Jindal Doctoral Fellowship and SAU Scholarship under the SAARC umbrella. He is also an Advisor/Global Editor of Diplomatic Society for South Africa in partnership with Diplomatic World Institute (Brussels). He has received accolades such as 2018/2019 ‘Best Journalist of the Year’ in South Africa, (GCA) Media Award for 2016 and the Indian Council of World Affairs (ICWA) accolade. He is the author of ‘Politics, Economics and Connectivity: In Search of South Asian Union’.)