IT professionals and bi-lateral agreements | Sunday Observer

IT professionals and bi-lateral agreements

The bi-lateral agreements the government hopes to sign with many countries including India, have been a point of discussion for everyone involved in the IT industry.

The Computer Society of Sri Lanka (CSSL) as the professional association in this sector has taken a keen interest in this. We have conducted fora, discussions and studies on this matter and are in a continuous dialogue with all relevant stakeholders. Following industry as well as CSSL member consultation, we prepared the following as our high level proposals or regulatory changes to govern the ICT professional environment in Sri Lanka in the context of bi-lateral agreements:

We expect the government to take these proposals seriously and will offer CSSL’s support in getting the necessary changes implemented, for the benefit of our industry and the country at large.

Foreign nationals who come to Sri Lanka to work in the IT industry need to be checked for their qualifications and experience. The Computer Society of Sri Lanka (CSSL) is the body that conducts such checks at present.

We call on the government to Incorporate the CSSL under an Act of Parliament before ETCA is signed so that any foreign national coming to Sri Lanka is checked professionally in terms of skills, certifications, and qualifications. Foreign nationals should get CSSL membership, which will be one document needed to issue a visa. When giving CSSL membership, we will verify the quality of the qualification, and the work experience. CSSL already does that for its members.

To issue a working visa to a foreign national, he needs to have an offer letter from a company incorporated in Sri Lanka.

The visa must be connected to that company (based on offer letter) and in the event the person leaves that company, the person must not be allowed to remain in Sri Lanka thereafter, and has to go back to the person’s own country.

A working visa has to always be bound to a company incorporated in Sri Lanka. i.e. the visa should be company specific.

Before foreign nationals are recruited, a company must have tried to fill the vacancy locally. With the offer letter, evidence has to be submitted to Immigration and Emigration department such as local job advertisements and details/contacts of interviewees/process.

This has to be legally enacted. We would not object to bringing in foreign experts, if that skill or knowledge was not available in Sri Lanka.

Checking skills of people in the IT industry is a capability that CSSL has with the SFIA framework (Skills for the Information Age).

Checking if the skills in demand is not found locally and whether the person who is coming from overseas has that skill is an important cross validation.

Sri Lankan employee percentage in any company should be maintained at high levels and to achieve this a minimum level of Sri Lankan employment in any company has to be defined and regulated. We welcome the creation of new companies with foreign investment. However, we stress that locals should also directly benefit in terms of new employment opportunities.

The salary paid to an foreign national has to be declared to the Inland Revenue Department for which PAYEE tax must be paid, and also declared to CSSL’s accreditation body (appointed under Point 1 above), so that salary standards are maintained in Sri Lanka. For this purpose, CSSL will run an annual salary survey. Where a trend of decreasing salary levels in identified, CSSL will work with the relevant company to rectify the situation.

There should be a penalty introduced if a company declares a higher salary in the offer letter but pays lower salary in reality. Inland Revenue Department should be empowered to regulate this.

Manpower companies from foreign countries should not be allowed to enter into Sri Lanka through ETCA, or BOI processes. This is proposed with the hope of preventing misuse and abuse of the ETCA.

Visa validity period should be pre-defined to a reasonable duration, extendable with valid reasons for another pre-defined period.

After completing the pre-defined duration and extended pre-defined period of working in Sri Lanka, the foreign national has to have a break of a certain period before another working visa is offered in Sri Lanka. This break period also should be regulated with laws.

Tourists visa holders should not be allowed to work in Sri Lanka. The Immigration Department will have to ensure compliance.

A foreign company that comes to Sri Lanka under ETCA, should have a certain number of employees in their payroll in their own country. This is to avoid freelancers coming in high numbers to Sri Lanka, and killing the local freelance / startup economy.

Dependent visas must be offered to immediate family only, and working must be prohibited for them. They are most welcome to join their immediate family here, but should not be abusing the visa.

It is however possible that family may also find employment in accordance with ETCA Companies that setup Research and Development (R&D) units in Sri Lanka should be supported with special tax benefits.

The Computer Society of Sri Lanka (CSSL) calls on the government to look at the proposals positively and work with relevant government agencies to initiate regulatory changes as well as take these points for consideration during bi-lateral agreement discussions.

Yasas Vishuddhi Abeywickrama
President, Computer Society of Sri Lanka