Social and economic context of migration

The long civil war and the country’s limited economic opportunities due to its small industrial base, formed push factors for out-migration among both skilled and low-skilled migrants. Sri Lanka had a tertiary out-migration rate of 28 per cent in 2000, the highest rate in the subregion. Migrants with a tertiary education tend to move to Australia, New Zealand or North America, while lower-skilled migrants usually seek work in countries of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC).2 Notably, high debt and chronic trade deficit in years past led to a depletion of the country’s foreign exchange reserves, which further pushed the Government to actively promote migration for foreign employment.

The end of the 30-year internal conflict in May 2009 marked a major turning point in Sri Lanka with an immediate revival of confidence in the country. Since the end of the conflict, Sri Lanka has implemented large-scale reconstruction and development projects with the aim of increasing electricity access and rebuilding the country’s transportation and communication network.

According to a government survey released in 2010, about 67.2 per cent of the population was of working age, with an overall labour force participation rate of 47.4 per cent. Male labour force participation was more than twice (67.1 per cent) than that of females (30.4 per cent) (Sri Lanka Ministry of Finance and Planning 2010).

The survey also reported that in 2006/2007, more than 96 per cent of the population was considered literate (Sri Lanka Ministry of Finance and Planning 2010). The high rate indicates a sharp increase in literacy among women as well as the narrowing of the gender gap. It also reflects the diminishing gender differences with regard to access to formal schooling. The gap between rural and urban literacy levels still exists; however, it has also decreased significantly.


2 The member States of the GCC are Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates.