Green card regime for brain gain | Daily News

Green card regime for brain gain

The Finance Minister will present the next budget of the Government soon, trimming debts, enhancing income, supporting benefits to people, spurring private and public sector growth with enhanced foreign direct investments.

An elephant in the room we hope would finally see the attention it deserves is the immense potential of Sri Lankans overseas with skilled hands and brains, immense goodwill and resources who can contribute significantly to the wealth and productivity of our country.

The Foreign Ministry planned a diaspora festival, maybe influenced by conventional wisdom for Tamils overseas, distanced from us at present. Would ‘All’ Sri Lankans overseas be truly representative of this event? The piece today though is not about that.

We are blessed with a vast,largely untapped human capital and financial resource base of Sri Lankan origin overseas acquired on account of learning and application in jobs and enterprises overseas. Some were and at the pinnacle in their respective vocations.

We forget to look beyond our nose in the search for “investments”. For our people offshore to be more active in their country of origin we need to present incentives. For too long we have had slogans about helping the motherland but no co-ordinated action of any note. The Finance Minister has asked this writer several times what more needs to be done. The answers are presented here.

A Green card regime for brain gain

Using the US Green card euphemism we must enable brain gain with the pull factors which bring back our people to park some of their assets here, return periodically either as educated young or highly skilled senior citizens as volunteers, professionals coming with family to work from Sri Lanka, persons spending part of the year here working out of Sri Lanka and in countries of current domicile or as “investors” including transferring cash into deposits in Sri Lanka.

Our brain gain regime should incentivize sector and area based interventions which foster education, skills and stimulate growth. An example being in the area of education in which there is triple deduction available since the 2015 Budget unknown to most for investments in NVQ recognized programmes. Eminently scalable to transferring to Sri Lanka with our exceptional professionals, Faculties and Campuses, top centres of higher learning for students from countries in the region. A cash cow exploited by Malaysia, Singapore and Doha. Professionals across a range of skills essential for export markets based out of specific regional areas in SL can become game changers. “Brain gainers” can run Sri Lanka branches of many multinational corporations, be at the helm of groundbreaking technology firms, and help shape public opinion as editors and commentators in the media or as staff of influential think tanks breaking down the walls between Sri Lanka and the rest of the world.

Bluntly stated, to raise our global competitiveness and become “an innovative society” where our people overseas see our market as a ‘next step’ in career ladders we need to align policy.

Policies in Singapore, India and China

Singapore–recognizes marriages registered overseas. Immediate family members who are foreigners can apply for permanent residence.

India -has the “Indian Overseas Citizen Pass Plan (OCI)targeting overseas to attract their talent based in other countries.

China - As the world's second largest economy, China has the “1,000 Talents Plan,” attracting back global talent.

Policy options

The incumbent Secretary, Ministry of Defence, Eng. Karunasena Hettiarachchi had studied this subject and drawn several conclusions. Forty-one expatriate knowledge networks have been identified around the world to date categorised as:

* student/scholarly networks, local associations of skilled expatriates

* expert pool assistance through the transfer of knowledge through expatriate national’s programme of the UNDP

* Intellectual/scientific Diaspora networks.

His study proposes:

* on-line consultation, knowledge sharing, distance education,

* an Online Business Information Centre established to provide information on business opportunities to facilitate such investments by coordinating with government agencies.

* higher duty free facilities when they return to the country for holidays.

* permanent residence as agreed with the Ministry of Finance, based on the cumulative remittances, import tax concessions to import vehicles and other household items.

* in case of the Capital Investments for Projects and Industries, import duty relief provided as decided by the Ministry of Finance.

A budget proposal sent by CHA for 2016/17 calls for –

A skills and vacancies database for the various programmes of work undertaken in the country (Government, Commercial, Not for profit) to which Sri Lankans of overseas origin can contribute with suitable incentives, such as:

1. Visa - Fast track issue of 3, 6 or 12 month visa for individual + family

2. Banking – Ability to maintain bank accounts in Sri Lanka and overseas

3. Foreign Exchange – Flexibility to transfer foreign exchange in either SLR to Foreign Currency or Foreign Currency to SLR. (This could be built on the recent announcement on new laws to regulate FE)

4. Property / Land – flexibility to purchase property / land in Sri Lanka with no restrictions

5. Investment – Flexibility to invest in Enterprise or Social/Charity activities

6. Remuneration and or Expenses – Ability to receive Remuneration and or Expenses (if applicable) in Foreign Currency or SLR.

7. Citizenship – Fast Track of Dual Citizenship applications for individual + family.

Money alone cannot spur dividends in the country. We need the brains to make it grow including ours located off shore largely ignored, currently. The Budget is an occasion to present a comprehensive enabling framework to achieve these objectives.


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