Feb 21, 2007 (AFP) – War in the Middle East and equal paying jobs at home led to a sharp drop in Sri Lankans working abroad in 2006 as maids, clerks and professionals opted to stay put, an official said Wednesday. To make it more attractive, the government now planned to raise the minimum wage to 250 dollars, he said. The number of Sri Lankans who left for jobs abroad, mainly to the Middle East, dropped 13 percent in 2006 to 201,143 from 231,290 a year earlier, said L.K. Ruhunage, deputy general manager of the Foreign Employment Bureau.
“We saw a drop in the number of women workers, especially those going for jobs as housemaids,” Ruhunage told AFP.
Most Sri Lankans seek employment in Middle Eastern countries, with Saudi Arabia the most popular choice, followed by Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates and Qatar.
However, in 2006 the number of workers to Saudi Arabia dropped 31 percent, while the number headed for Kuwait fell 17 percent, with similar drops in other Middle Eastern countries close to the war in Iraq.
Sri Lanka also sends the highest number of expatriate workers to war-torn Lebanon, with the bureau estimating more than 100,000 people work there through legal and illegal channels.