New employment scheme with Saudi Arabia sparks hope among Sri Lankan workers

Saudi Arabia flag

Sri Lankans are hopeful that a new employment scheme with Saudi Arabia will help ease their country’s economic crisis, professionals and labour officials told Arab News, as they expect it to boost the nation’s manpower exports to the Kingdom.

Saudi Arabia and Sri Lanka recently signed an agreement on the Skill Verification Program which aims to improve the professional competence of employees in the Saudi labour market and streamline the recruitment process of skilled workers from the island nation.

Under the deal – which covers 23 professions, including electricians and auto mechanics – Saudi employers will recognize accreditations issued by Sri Lanka’s Tertiary and Vocational Education Commission.

“The TVEC has embarked on the assessment process where Saudi Arabia would tell us their manpower needs and Sri Lanka would choose the right candidates for the right courses,” commission director, Dr. Lalithadheera K. Arachchige, told Arab News on Tuesday.

For many years, Sri Lankan professionals have been working in Saudi Arabia without recognition of their professional certification and often enrolled in jobs below their qualifications. The new deal is expected to change that.

Abdul Nazar, managing director of Colombo-based recruitment company Air Kings Group who used to work in Jeddah, said Saudi Arabia had previously not recognized professionals from Sri Lanka “unless they have gone through the technical skill tests processed by the Saudi government.”

He told Arab News: “The new facility will enable the migrant workers to claim their salaries according to their professional qualifications which will help our country to earn increased volume of foreign exchange to our national coffers.”

The deal coincides with the Kingdom’s launch of various megaprojects and its growing need for foreign workers.

“In Saudi Arabia, because of Vision 2030, there is a dearth for skilled workers where we can creep in and get the needed foreign exchange to Sri Lanka,” Nihal Gamage, president of the Sri Lanka Cultural Forum in Riyadh, told Arab News. “This is a God-sent opportunity.”

The program was also expected to encourage more Sri Lankans to look for jobs in the Kingdom, due to the extra perks they would receive.

“Both countries will benefit. Saudi Arabia is getting more qualified people and at the same time we are getting the high perks,” Senarath Yapa, spokesman of the Sri Lanka Bureau of Foreign Employment, told Arab News.

Only around 40 percent of Sri Lankan migrant workers departing for the Kingdom are recognized as skilled workers, Yapa said.

H.P.A. Kumarasinghe, a Sri Lankan professional who works as a chief accountant at Riyadh-based ABV Rock Group, expected the agreement to help ease the economic crisis in his home country.

Sri Lanka has been seeking foreign employment opportunities for its professionals as it is facing its worst financial crisis since gaining independence in 1948 and is in desperate need of foreign currency.

“I really believe this new program will help ease the crisis in Sri Lanka more broadly,” Kumarasinghe told Arab News.

“This was a long overdue deal, but there’s a saying that it’s better late than never, so in this point of view I believe it is a remarkable agreement between Sri Lanka and Saudi Arabia.”

(Source: Arab News)