Students pin hopes on study abroad but face huge hurdles

Driven by the current economic crisis, high unemployment and political instability, increasing numbers of Sri Lankan students have been going abroad for higher education since early this year. According to leading student migration consultancy agencies in Sri Lanka, the outflow is expected to rise further.

In addition to student migration, professionals such as doctors, nurses, scientists and IT experts are seeking jobs overseas. According to a recent Central Bank of Sri Lanka report, so far this year over 150,000 Sri Lankans have left for foreign employment. Last year there were 117,952 over the whole year.

According to Department of Immigration and Emigration data, Sri Lanka has issued nearly 600,000 passports this year compared to the previous year when about 382,000 – an increase of 63% – were issued. Currently the department is issuing about 3,000 passports daily, compared with 1,000 earlier.

Many students say they are going abroad as the future job market in the country is so uncertain and because of the current economic crisis, marked by severe fuel and food shortages, which they do not believe will be resolved soon.

The resignation of former president Gotabaya Rajapaksa in July after massive protests has not increased confidence.

Few job prospects

Ashi Adhikari, a female student at a private university in Nugegoda on the outskirts of Colombo, told University World News it will be very difficult to find a job in the future. “Most of my friends have plans to migrate, so after completing my [undergraduate] degree, I also want to migrate for higher studies.”

“Saying goodbye to parents and siblings is a difficult task, but to survive we need to migrate,” she added.

According to the Department of Census and Statistics, Sri Lanka’s inflation hit a record high of 66.7% in July. Food inflation has already increased to 82.5%, according to the National Consumer Price Index. According to the latest World Bank assessment, Sri Lanka is listed as having the fifth highest food price inflation in the world.

Young people have been badly affected by the economic crisis. According to the Department of Census and Statistics’ Labour Force Survey, for the first quarter of 2022 the youth unemployment rate for those aged 15-24 years was 19.2% – the highest reported unemployment rate among all age groups.

Vinura Perera, who studied at a private university in Homagama, some 24 kilometres from Colombo, and is currently working in the IT field, said he had been hoping to go abroad for a long time, even before the economic and political crisis.

He is among many skilled professionals seeking to leave in an ongoing brain drain. But it’s not easy.

“I have been trying since 2019. I have no plans to migrate using a student visa, but I am trying for skilled migration or a work visa,” he told University World News. “I don’t have enough funds, and for skilled migration the competition is very high,” he said. But he added: “I want to improve the quality of my life and want to settle in a developed country and to get permanent residency. I would like to migrate to Canada, Australia, New Zealand or France.”

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