A recent proposal of fast-tracking visas for tech professionals comes in the wake of an IT talent shortage. The documents propose critical changes in higher education laws to boost regional talent and attract foreign higher education institutes to the island.
According to the National Export Strategy (NES) 2018-2022: Information Technology Strategy policy document, “In order to stimulate and enable sustainable growth in the IT-BPM industry, a number of regulatory amendments need to be implemented.” The document emphasizes the need for fast-tracking the procedures in place currently while introducing new regulations that aid tech companies to hire foreign talent.
The document outlines examples of few programs that have been implemented successfully in other countries, “Initiate a program similar to the French Tech Visa, a simplified, fast-track procedure for three types of international start-up founders, employees and investors.” The La French Tech, which was launched in 2013 is considered a successful endeavor by many. According to CB Insights, the La French Tech was able to raise 1.5 billion US dollars from 177 deals in 2013, and the funding was predicted to reach 4.1 billion US dollars from 716 deals, in 2017.
Also, a similar program began in 2010 was evaluated to raise 1.4 billion US dollars by 2018. Additionally, since the start of the program, there has been a huge increase in the higher education enrolment, which accounts for approximately 90% of children gaining access to University education, compared to less than 20% in Sri Lanka.
However, not everyone favors these new developments, and some believe that lessening the immigration restrictions for tech workers and professional migrants may in fact backfire, and take away jobs from the locals. But, in contrast, others believe that by widening the Lankan job market may lead to more jobs in other areas, while attracting foreign currency.
The Tech Export Strategy (NES) document goes on to outline the current IT education, “Graduates have good technical skills, but often are missing soft skills and practical experience… Some internship opportunities are provided to students, but state universities favor full-time, lecture-mode education and do not promote working experience during university years. This creates a problem with workforce conversion and bringing graduates into the industry… Graduates have good technical skills, but often are missing soft skills and practical experience.”
The NES policy document stated, “During sector consultations, industry players noted that as many as 18,000 new IT graduates would be needed annually,” However, Sri Lanka’s narrow education system does not have the ability to supply enough Tech professionals, which will curb the attraction to start ventures in Lankan soil, for foreign/private sector companies.
As a result of these observations, NES outlines possible solutions and changes to the Universities Act of 1978.
“Allow universities to establish companies and start-ups independently and facilitate those companies in individually applying for bids and contracts and in leveraging their research through commercialization and entrepreneurship,” Which NES hopes will pave the way to solving the TechCrunch. Additionally, the proposal outlines plans to build regional tech research centers at Moratuwa, Kandy, and Jaffna universities. Also, the document is encouraging the setting up of satellite counterparts of foreign universities in order to increase development, skill-sets, and research.
Sri Lankan tech industry is calculated to launch 1,000 start-ups and generate 5 billion US dollars while employing 200,000 people in exports by 2020, which is a significant increase from 1.2 billion US dollars in 2017 and 80,000 jobs.