A number of Professional Associations claim that a section of the free trade agreement (FTA) with Singapore which defines Singaporean and Sri Lankan Nationals opens the gates for foreign professionals who are permanent residents of Singapore to work in Sri Lanka. However, the Ministry of Development Strategies and International Trade has refuted these allegations.
The Sri Lanka – Singapore FTA was inked in January 2018, however, it is yet to be ratified by Parliament. As details began to emerge of the FTA, professional bodies took the initiative to filing FR petitions with the Supreme Court against it.
According to chapter one of the Singapore Sri Lanka Free trade agreement, with respect to the Republic of Singapore “national” means any person who is a citizen of Singapore within the meaning of its Constitution and its domestic laws or a permanent resident of Singapore within the meaning of its domestic laws.
With respect to Sri Lanka, “national” is defined as any person who is a citizen of Sri Lanka within the meaning of its Constitution and its domestic laws.
President of the IT Professionals Association in Sri Lanka, Kapila Perera speaking to News1st said that they do not disagree with the premise of entering into an FTA with a country such as Singapore but noted that the manner in which the Sri Lankan Government has approached this agreement is wrong. He added that the Government is not collaborating with local professionals and are attempting to bring get this done in a manner which is not transparent.
Perera claims that through the clauses in the FTA which define who a national is, any individual who is able to get a PR from Singapore will be allowed to come to Sri Lanka. In theory, Kapila Perera claims that this agreement provides a backdoor for any professional from any country to come to Sri Lanka granted that they get PR from Singapore.
The Ministry of Development Strategies and International Trade says the claim that a Singaporean company will be able to send a citizen of another country to work in Sri Lanka is inaccurate and misleading. A statement issued by the Ministry notes that the only permitted entrants are those who qualify as corporate transferees: i.e., persons employed by a Singaporean company with investments in Sri Lanka.
The Ministry also highlights the fact that such persons would have to be employed in that company for at least 12 months. Furthermore, The Ministry claims that as is defined in the schedules of the agreement, only the most skilled and highest tiered personnel are eligible. According to the Ministry, if a person has a “dominant and effective nationality” in a third country, such persons would be excluded.
Therefore, the Ministry says a Singaporean company cannot hire and send a citizen of another country to work in Sri Lanka and as such, the number of permanent residence holders arriving in Sri Lanka is extremely limited and entry will be tied to a corresponding investment in Sri Lanka, thereby benefitting the country as a whole.
Nalaka Jayaweera, a Charted Architect, refutes this claim and noted that a huge labour market has been liberalised and this includes professions such as labourers and drivers as well. President of the IT Professionals Association in Sri Lanka, Kapila Perera opines that the team involved in creating the FTA had ulterior motives and as such had requested President Maithripala Sirisena to remove Min Malik Samarawickrama from the Ministry fo Development Strategies and International trade in order to restart negotiations.