The Long Wait for New Dual Citizenship Regulations – This needs the attention of President Mahinda Rajapakse
Posted on November 15th, 2011
Anjalika Silva USA
When the country’s immediate need to bring back knowledge workers to assist in the development process, why is so much weight given to a flawed system of dual citizenship which has now become tied to reversing brain drain and a hindrance to bringing people back. Politicians extend invitations to expats to come back when overseas. What about the rest of it?
It is a long time since the notice stated below first appeared on the website of the Sri Lanka Department of Immigration and Emigration with no indication of what is to follow.
“Acceptance of Dual Citizenship applications and the application already approved and due for payments are temporary discontinued until further notice.”
The government is justified in having taken steps to investigate some of the asylum seekers and refugees who have obtained dual citizenship under the radar without being detected. These are individuals who fabricated evidence to benefit their economic migration over the real need for gaining asylum status in another country. However, it is a greater lapse on the part of officials in the country to not put enough thought and planning to envision the likely loopholes that they were leaving wide open when they granted dual citizenship merely on the basis of payment without consideration for other criteria.
A stringent set of criteria should have been the first priority considering what went on in the last 30 years in Sri Lanka. This is really a sad state of affairs that due to lack of planning, instead of investigating past cases and continuing to scrutinize new applications more carefully with a better system, everything has come to a grinding halt. This is another typical example of taking the path of least resistance due to bureaucratic lethargy to think.
The detrimental effect of clamping down on dual citizenship
As always the victim of all this is not the politicians, politics or the dishonest—it is the true patriots who can be of some use to the country and the country itself that suffers in the long run. The recent pace of development in the country clearly indicates that the physical development is racing ahead rapidly while the human capital development is lacking the impetus required to keep up. We do not seem to have enough well trained, experience people to go around especially in areas of management and developing efficient systems with accountability built in. In developed countries these areas are a given and accepting expats into the country can vastly benefit much needed improvement and to introduce efficient systems with knowledge workers for much needed training methods. In being open to welcome expats is in no way a boon to expats. Only those who sincerely wish to give back will respond and offer their services.
Sri Lanka was never at a point like it is today to be able to tap into its own resources of well trained personnel from overseas to come in and fill the gaps. In doing so, Sri Lanka is granting no favours to expats. With the halt in dual citizenship, there are many potential experts who have been accepted by private sector organizations that have made offers of employment for their valued experience being tossed around. This serves no purpose due to the lack of attention being paid to the ramifications of halting dual citizenship; they are not able to transfer their knowledge. There are many who are stranded having left lucrative jobs overseas to return and accept offers from Sri Lanka with dual citizenship applications in the pipeline. Those applications that were supposed to become effective to permit work are now stuck without any indication of the direction it will take. This has ruined many careers of highly qualified people who have the skills and desire to give back to Sri Lanka. They have lost at both ends and the harder part is that Sri Lanka has virtually rejected those who want to give their knowledge while politicians visit expat gatherings and call for returnees to serve Sri Lanka. All that needs to be done with those baseless invitations has not been thought through. Other developing countries like Ethiopia have created a one stop shop for expats to facilitate bringing back brains to the country.
The economy of Sri Lanka survived 30 years of carnage due entirely to the stamina of the private sector. The government needs to recognize this and offer all the support they can to provide easy access to resources required to grow the economy further. In this equation human resources structural development and the right kind of technical personnel can only be found from overseas as the brain drain took many away from the country. Even today, most young qualified individuals will prefer overseas jobs to jobs in Sri Lanka. It is the population of expats who have been out and secured experience and financial security that will and can come back. This is not being seen by those who make decisions. If this segment is rejected, they do not lose in the process because they can continue to live comfortably overseas.
The last piece of information obtained from the office of the Controller of Immigration and Emigration on October 14th 2011, was that the full and final report has been submitted to the President and the Defense Secretary who will review and give the order to resume accepting applications. In the meantime, many opportunities for companies to bring back expertise are floating away due to low morale.
If the decision and the criteria to grant full citizenship needs further thinking which has come a bit too late after all the horses have run, locking the stable can wait. Based on one piece of qualifying criteria below, which says,
Who can apply For Sri Lankan Dual Citizenship ?
1. An ex – Sri Lankan holding the citizenship of a foreign country
2. A Sri Lankan qualified to receive citizenship of a foreign country and who may contribute to the socio-economic development of Sri Lanka can apply for dual citizenship.
Based on item 2, if contribution to the socio-economic development of Sri Lanka is a necessary part of the entitlement to dual citizenship, this can only be achieved by recognizing the applicants who have tangible opportunities in their hands to contribute to the country. There are many with pie in the sky ideas that have prompted applications for dual citizenship couching their grand plans to buy and rent property for business purposes as a personal goal. So far, the benefit to the country by dual citizenship alone is negligible. Dual citizenship has only become attractive for the purpose of investing in property. Very few maintain property as a residential need. Most are for investment driving the residential rental market through the roof. One has only to look through the classified advertisements to figure it out.
If contribution to socio-economic development is important, then granting the necessary permission to those who wish to come and prove their service will be easier and beneficial to the country. This can be proven only by service and not in rhetoric. How does the immigration and emigration service plan to measure this item #2 when people are resident overseas and waiting for dual citizenship with no plans to return. It should not be just a business advantage or an insurance against the collapse of the global economy. Sadly that is all it is serving right now and in this category those who are in the “wait and see” mode are using the property investment only and for personal advantage. There is very little desire for service to the country.
At least honour the knowledge workers of Sri Lankan descent who can come back at the right time and give their expertise. It is critical that the right opportunities, the right skills and the right time are considered in the granting of dual citizenship or permission to work in Sri Lanka to those who have served the country even while being citizens living overseas. The government could not have achieved success in the battle against negative propaganda overseas if not for the educated expats and their unpaid voluntary services that don’t seem to count. Not all expats have played an active role while a majority has been complacent while a few battled. The service of expats should be considered also as important criteria for dual citizenship. Do not favour those who claim fame by name for their paid professions but recognize those who have given time and effort voluntarily as true patriots. If this talent is not harnessed while the motivation exists, the country can lose them forever because as the generations of the future are born overseas, their desire to serve and eligibility for dual citizenship will disappear.
Sri Lanka cannot produce enough well trained people to keep pace with the post war development and that is very evident under the present circumstances. It is also a lament of many private companies seeking talent. A work permit system seems to be far more important as an immediate need than the long term dual citizenship. One can transition to the other because with easier work permits, those who wish to give back to the country can be encouraged to do so. The department of immigration and emigration should also look into cases where foreign citizens of Sri Lankan origin are working without authorization.
Coming to Sri Lanka to serve is not lucrative by any means; it is only sought by those who have their heart in the country. No one in the government seems to recognize this fact and its value. The door has been shut in the face of those who deceived the country and those who got shut out are those who should have been inside of the door. At least the immigration authorities should process valid applications or provide work permits without the indiscriminate closure of the entire process.
Mr. President, this needs your attention as much as everything else you wish for the better good of the country. If not, scrap the dual citizenship process and leave a new system in place so that on a case by case basis, knowledge workers can be brought back to the country. Do we need a cumbersome dual citizenship? Has anyone asked this question? Has anyone evaluated the reasons why people get dual citizenship? How many of them have given back to the country? If the need is knowledge workers for development, then the criteria is plain and simple to determine eligibility to return and serve to be considered as a valued dual citizen to be granted such a status after physically coming back and working for the country. A work permit system is the answer. There is no other fair way to qualify those who fulfill the criteria #2 for eligibility to apply for dual citizenship. It should be preceded by a not so cumbersome work permit to serve and prove one’s value to the country.