Country Profile: Sri Lanka

Country Profile: Sri Lanka

Capital City: Kotte

Population, 2010: 20.4 million

Languages: Sinhala and Tamil

Monetary Unit: Sri Lankan Rupee

1. Overview

Sri Lanka began economic liberalisation and a move away from socialism in 1977. Sri Lanka’s export-oriented policies have also seen a shift from a reliance on agricultural exports to an increasing emphasis on the services and manufacturing sectors. Manufacturing, the fastest growing sector is dominated by the garment industry. The agricultural sector, though decreasing in importance to the economy, accounts for around 18 per cent of national output and employs more than one third of the workforce. The public sector remains large, with the state continuing to dominate in the financial, utilities, health and education sectors.

Sri Lankans started coming to Australia in large numbers in the mid-1980s, largely because of the country’s escalating ethnic conflicts. Since then the number of Sri Lankans choosing to live in Australia has continued to grow – with over 5800 new migrants in 2009-10 compared to just over 1600 migrants a decade ago. Internationally, around 800 000 Sri Lankans work abroad and of those migrating to Australia almost 7 in 10 come via the Skill Stream. Sri Lanka has benefited from this diaspora, with remittances accounting for around 7 per cent of Sri Lanka’s annual GDP. Economic prospects and better quality of life is another reason for migration, on a purchasing-power-parity basis, Australia’s GDP per capita is over 7 times more than Sri Lanka’s.

A summary measure of well being is the Human Development Index (HDI), produced by the United Nations. The HDI is a composite measure of three dimensions of human development: health, education and income. Australia ranks very high on this measure, with a 2010 score of 0.94, second only to Norway.

Table 1

Sri Lanka rates well relative to the rest of South East Asia with an HDI of 0.66 compared to the regional average of 0.52. Internationally, Sri Lanka currently ranks 91 out of 169 countries.


2. Community in Australia

At the end of June 2009 there were 87 410 Sri Lankan born people living in Australia, 40.3 per cent more than was reported in the August 2006 Census of Population and Housing. It is the sixteenth largest migrant community in Australia – equivalent to 1.5 percent of Australia’s overseas born population and 0.4 per cent of Australia’s total population.

For Australia’s Sri Lankan born migrants:

  • The median age of 41.4 years was almost 5 years above that of the general population.
  • Males slightly outnumbered females 51.6 per cent compared with 48.4 per cent.
  • At June the labour force participation rate of 73 per cent was high compared to the national average of 65 per cent.
  • At September 2010 there were 50 500 Sri Lankan nationals working in Australia, of those workers 35 per cent were professionals, and 15 per cent were clerical and administrative workers.
  • The unemployment rate of 8.2 per cent in June 2010 was considerably higher than the national rate of 5.2 per cent*.


3. Permanent Migration and Temporary Entry

Summary, 2009-10

Permanent Additions to the Australian Population*

There were 5849 Sri Lanka born permanent additions to the Australian resident population. Among these new additions:

  • The Skill Stream accounted for 68 per cent of all permanent additions and comprised 1632 skilled migrants and 2340 accompanying family members.
  • The Family Stream comprised 984 family migrants and accounted for 17 per cent of all permanent additions.
  • Australia’s Refugee and Humanitarian Program accounted for 12 per cent of all permanent additions.
  • Non-program migration of Sri Lankan born New Zealand citizens accounted for the bulk of the remaining 2.4 per cent of permanent additions.


Permanent Visas Granted, 2009-10*

Table 2

There were 5085 Sri Lankan nationals that were granted a permanent visa. Among the new permanent visa holders:

  • The Skill Stream accounted for 80 per cent (4049 persons) of the permanent visas granted, with almost 9 in every 10 skilled visas granted under the points tested General Skilled Migration* program.
  • The Family Stream accounted for 20 per cent (1003 persons) of the permanent visas granted, with partners of Australian residents accounting for 6 in every 10 family migration grants.*

Temporary Entry Visas Granted, 2009-10
Table 3 & 4

Of the main temporary entry program visas granted to Sri Lankan nationals:

  • 2774 Student visas were granted, of which 61 per cent were to those enrolling in an undergraduate and postgraduate course in Australia.
  • 600 Sri Lankan workers were granted a Business Long Stay (subclass 457) visa, with General Medical Practitioners and Medical Practitioners in Training among the main sponsored occupations.
  • 12 096 Visitor visas were granted.


Detailed Analysis

Visas Granted through Australia’s Migration Program

Table 2 & 4

Skilled Migration

Skilled migration is focused on facilitating the permanent entry of those who can make a positive contribution to Australia through their skills, qualifications, entrepreneurial spirit and future employment potential.

  • In 2009-10, 107 868 skilled visas were granted, with Sri Lankan nationals accounting for 4 per cent (4049 grants) of total grants.
  • Despite a fall of 6 per cent in skilled grants through the Migration Program in 2009-10, grants to Sri Lankan nationals were up 15 per cent on 2008-09, and 55 per cent higher than 2006-07. Most of this growth was driven by the rise in state sponsorship.
  • Skilled migration remains the main route for Sri Lankan nationals seeking permanent residency in Australia. In 2009-10, the Skilled Program accounted for 8 in every 10 permanent visas granted through the Migration Program.
  • Grants to applicants in the General Skilled Migration Program* accounted for 87 per cent of all skilled visas granted to Sri Lankan nationals, while the demand-driven employer sponsored route has grown from 114 grants in 2006-07 to 454 grants in 2009-10.
  • Accountants, Computing Professionals and Civil Engineers were the main occupations among the new General Skilled Migration visa holders.
  • The 11 per cent increase of permanent visas granted to Sri Lankan nationals in 2009-10 was driven by skilled migration which offset the slight fall in family visas granted.

Family Migration

Family migration facilitates the entry of close family members of Australian citizens, permanent residents and eligible New Zealand citizens. The program is currently dominated by fiancés, partners and dependent children, but also provides options for other family members such as parents, aged dependent relatives, carers and remaining relatives to join family in Australia.

  • In 2009-10, 60 254 family visas were granted, with grants to Sri Lankan nationals accounting for 1.7 per cent (1003 grants) of the total. This was marginally down on the number granted the previous year (1020 grants).
  • Sustained growth is evident in both the partner and parent totals, with partners accounting for 59 per cent of all family visas granted (595 persons) and parents accounting for 21 per cent of all family visas granted (211 persons) in 2009-10.

Temporary Entry Visas Granted

Table 3 & 4

An increasing number of Sri Lankan nationals enter Australia as visitors or temporary residents each year.

International Students

The Student Visa Program consists of a range of visa categories that broadly correspond to education sectors. Students must study with an accredited education provider and in a course registered on the Commonwealth Register of Institutions and Courses for Overseas Students.

In 2009-10 there was a reduction in both the number of student visa applications received and the number of visas granted. Reasons included increased competition from overseas markets compounded by the strengthening of the Australian dollar, the introduction of robust student visa integrity measures and changes made to the General Skilled Migration program. While student visa grants fell by over 15 per cent, the total stock of international students in Australia remained relatively unaffected, only decreasing 1.1 per cent in 2009-10.

  • Australia is the most popular tertiary study destination for international students originating from Sri Lanka. In 2008, 24 per cent of all Sri Lankan international tertiary students chose Australia.
  • As at June 2010, there were 6860 Sri Lankan Student visa holders in Australia, representing 1.8 per cent of all international students in Australia.
  • 2009-10 saw a significant fall in Sri Lankan students coming to Australia, 2774 Sri Lankan nationals were granted a Student visa – representing a decrease of 26 per cent on the number granted the previous year.
  • Around 6 in every 10 Student visas granted in the last year were to those enrolling in an undergraduate or postgraduate course in Australia.

Business Long Stay (subclass 457) Workers

The subclass 457 visa program allows Australian employers to sponsor foreign workers for employment in management, professional, technical and skilled trades’ positions. The program is demand-driven and highly responsive to Australian labour market conditions. Statistics shows that the demand for subclass 457 visas increases in line with increased skilled vacancies.

The demand for foreign workers under this program declined following the economic downturn, but application rates steadily increased over the second half of 2009-10. In recent months business conditions have begun to improve and the number of applications lodged has increased.

In 2009-10, 67 980 visas were granted globally, a reduction of 33 per cent on the previous year.

  • In 2009-10, there were 600 subclass 457 visas granted to Sri Lankan nationals – 42 per cent fewer than the previous year.
  • In terms of percentage share, Sri Lankan nationals represent 0.8 per cent of all subclass 457 visas granted for 2009-10.
  • Among the Sri Lankan workers sponsored under this program, General Medical Practitioners and Resident Medical Officers were the main occupations for which Australian employers recruited from abroad.



In 2009-10, 12 096 Visitor visas were granted to Sri Lankan nationals – with numbers up by 5 per cent on the previous year and 16 per cent higher than the number granted in 2006-07. Tourists accounted for 86 per cent of all Sri Lankan visitors.


4. Emigration*

Table 5

In 2009-10, 215 Sri Lanka born permanent residents indicated at departure that they were leaving Australia permanently, with around 16 per cent indicating that they intend on returning to Sri Lanka.

  • Around a third (35 per cent) of these emigrants were Professionals, with Managers and Administrators accounting for a further 13 per cent.
  • The largest proportion were emigrating from Victoria and New South Wales, accounting for 40 percent and 37 per cent of Sri Lanka born residents respectively.


5. State and Territory summary

Victoria was the most popular state of residence for Sri Lankans in Australia. Over half of Sri Lanka born residents in Australia at the time of the last Census lived in Victoria, and the State was also the intended residential location for 54 per cent of new family migrants, and 46 per cent of new skilled migrants in 2009-10. Sri Lankan students also showed a preference for Victoria, with 68 per cent enrolling in an academic institution in this state in 2009-10. New South Wales was favoured by 29 per cent of subclass 457 workers, followed by Victoria and Queensland – each attracting 20 per cent of these 457 workers.


Explanatory notes

  1. Unemployment rates for individual migrant countries are calculated from the monthly ABS labour force survey (using published and unpublished data) and have been averaged across six months to account for monthly fluctuations and a small sample size. The national unemployment rate is the seasonally adjusted figure for December 2010.
  2. Permanent Additions are the sum of those granted a permanent residency visa while in Australia, and those granted a visa through an Australian mission abroad, that have entered Australia during the respective reporting period.
  3. Visa grants are the sum of all permanent migration and temporary entry visa applications granted in Australia, through the Australian Government’s online visa portal, and visa grants made at an Australian mission abroad.
  4. Australian residents are Australian citizens residents in Australia and other permanent residents.
  5. General Skilled Migration (GSM) is the sum of total Skilled Family Sponsored, Skilled Independent and State/Territory Sponsored visas.
  6. Emigration is the number of persons who reported on their overseas departure card that they were leaving Australia permanently.


Further reading

This profile was prepared using information and statistics collated by the Department of Immigration and Citizenship, and commentary extracted from the following publications:

Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade
See:Country, economy and regional information

Department of Immigration and Citizenship

International Monetary Fund
See:Country Information

Central Intelligence Agency
See:World Fact Book 2010

United Nations Development Program
See:Human Development Report 2010

World Bank
See:The Migration and Remittances Factbook 2011


Statistical tables – Sri Lanka

Table 1: Economic and Human Development Indicators, 2010

Australia Sri Lanka
Adult Literacy (%)* 99.0 90.7
Fertility Rates (children per female) 1.9 2.2
GDP per capita, PPP (current international $) 36 692 5 103
Life Expectancy at birth (years) 81.9 74.4
Mean years of schooling 12 8.2
Human Development Index 0.94 0.66
Median Age (years) 37.8 30.6
Population (millions) 22.3 20.4
Population growth, 2010 (%) 1.7 0.7

* All data (with the exception of adult literacy rates) were sourced from the UNDP Human Development Report 2010. Data on adult literacy was sourced from the CIA World Factbook, due to incomplete country information in the UNDP Report. Data on GDP per capita from Intentional Monetary Fund, World Economics Outlook Database Oct 2010.
Table 2: Number of persons granted a permanent Australian visa (by nationality), 2006-07 to 2009-10

Sri Lanka 2006-07 2007-08 2008-09 2009-10
Skilled Migration
  Business Skills 30 36 37 52
  Distinguished Talent 1 8 13 18
  Employer Sponsored 114 181 354 454
General Skilled Migration
    Skilled Family Sponsored 802 1 160 788 295
    Skilled Independent 1 421 1 821 1 621 1 932
    State/Territory Sponsored 238 352 718 1 298
Total number of skilled visa grants 2 606 3 558 3 531 4 049
Skilled visas as a proportion of all permanent visas (%) 75 82 77 80
Family Migration
 Child 64 59 56 62
 Prospective Marriage (fiancé) 32 23 37 28
 Partners 551 452 594 595
 Parent 89 197 231 211
 Preferential/Other Family 127 72 102 107
Total – Family visa grants 863 803 1 020 1 003
Family visas as a proportion of all permanent visas (%) 49 18 22 20
Special Eligibility (%) 7 2 12 33
Total – Permanent Migrants 3 476 4 363 4 563 5 085

Sourced from internal data collected by the Department of Immigration and Citizenship.
Table 3: Number of persons granted a temporary Australian visa (by nationality), 2006-07 to 2009-10

Sri Lanka 2006-07 2007-08 2008-09 2009-10
International Students
   English Language Intensive Course for Overseas Students 9 1 8 0
   Schools 13 23 15 10
   Vocational and Education Sector (VET) 352 397 702 711
   Higher Education 2 852 3 366 2 760 1 684
   Postgraduate 177 171 206 255
   Non-Award 13 11 32 64
   AusAID or Defence 46 45 40 80
   Total number of international student visa grants 3 462 4 014 3 763 2 774
Business Long Stay (subclass 457) 930 1 240 1 040 600
   Tourist 8 777 9 186 9 808 10 433
   Business Visitor 1 265 1 307 1 087 1 048
   Sponsored Family Visitor 374 437 602 615
   Total number of visitor visa grants 10 416 10 930 11 497 12 096

Sourced from internal data collected by the Department of Immigration and Citizenship.
Table 4: Main occupations among those granted a permanent (GSM) or temporary (subclass 457) visa, 2008-09 and 2009-10

Sri Lanka Business Long Stay (subclass 457) General Skilled Migration
Temporary Entry (employer sponsored) Permanent Entry (unsponsored)
2009-10 General Medical Practitioner 60 Accountant 410
Resident Medical Officer 40 Computing Professional * 300
Registered Nurse 10 Civil Engineer 100
Psychiatrist 10 Mechanical Engineer 60
Chef 10 Electronics Engineer 50
Surgeon (General) <5 Electrical Engineer 40
University Lecturer <5 Quantity Surveyor 40
Cook <5 General Medical Practitioner 30
Ship’s Engineer <5 Hairdresser 30
Civil Engineer <5 Production Manager (Manufacturing) 20
2008-09 General Medical Practitioner 110 Accountant 280
Medical Practitioner in Training 50 Computing Professional (*) 150
Chef 30 Hairdresser 80
Psychiatrist 20 Civil Engineer 60
Cook 20 Motor Mechanic 40
Computing Professionals NEC 10 Cook 40
Civil Engineer 10 Production Manager (Manufacturing) 40
Registered Nurse 10 Electrical Engineer 40
Welder (First Class) 10 Mechanical Engineer 30
University Lecturer 10 General Medical Practitioner 20

Sourced from internal data collected by the Department of Immigration and Citizenship.

* Within the broad professionals field, where no actual classification exists for the specific occupation.
Table 5: National Geographical Distribution, by country of birth and nationality



Proportion of all persons counted in the Census, 2006 33 25 20 8 10 2 1 2
Proportion of all Sri Lanka born counted in the Census, 2006 31 51 8 2 5 0 0 3
Geographical Distribution, Permanent Additions 2009-10
Skill Stream 18 46 9 11 12 1 1 2
Family Stream 29 54 7 2 6 0 1 2
Geographical Distribution, Temporary Entrants 2009-10
International Students 14 68 8 4 5 0 0 2
Business Long Stay (subclass 457) visa 29 20 20 6 16 4 3 1
Most recent State or Territory of Residents, Emigration
Emigration by Sri Lanka born permanent residents (and citizens) in Australia 37 40 11 2 7 0 0 2

Information on migrants was sourced from internal data collected by the Department of Immigration and Citizenship. Information on the geographical distribution of the total population was sourced from the 2006 Census of Population and Housing.
Table 6: Sri Lanka’s migration ranking relative to other countries

Sri Lanka 2008-09 2009-10
Sri Lankan born Population in Australia 15 16
General Skilled Migration 5 5
Employer sponsored 12 12
Total Skilled Stream 17 14
Total Family Stream 8 7
International Students 20 24
Business Long Stay (subclass 457) visa 16 15
Visitors 31 31

All information refers to the number of visas granted that year and was sourced from internal data collected by the Department of Immigration and Citizenship, except for Population in Australia which is sourced from the ABS and refers to the stock of overseas born persons in Australia at the time.

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