Reading: Sri Lankan Out-Migration: Five Key Waves Since Independence


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Sri Lankan Out-Migration: Five Key Waves Since Independence


Pavithra Jayawardena

University of Colombo, LK
About Pavithra
Senior Lecturer, Department of International Relations
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Sri Lankan migration provides a mini-laboratory for migration scholars because of its rich diversity. The "Sri Lankan Tamil diaspora," the "Sri Lankan maid," the "Sri Lankan refugee," and the "Sri Lankan boat migration to Australia" are some examples of the diversity and complexity of the phenomenon. At present, Sri Lanka has a total of three million emigrants of which one million have permanently settled outside Sri Lanka. This permanently settled community constitutes a one to twenty diaspora to population ratio, a significantly unique ratio for any sending country. Nonetheless, a holistic understanding of Sri Lankan migration is lacking, even though selective aspects of the phenomenon have received some academic attention. This article intends to fill this gap by providing a broader overview of Sri Lankan migration since its Independence. Through a thorough review of related academic articles and fifty-one semi-structured interviews with Sri Lankan emigrants, this article summarizes the key elements of Sri Lankan migration in five main waves from Independence until today. By revealing the diversity of the Sri Lankan immigrant community and its complexity, the article suggests the importance of understanding any immigrant community holistically not only for a better scholarly understanding but also effective policy making.

How to Cite: Jayawardena, P. (2020). Sri Lankan Out-Migration: Five Key Waves Since Independence. University of Colombo Review, 1(1), 101–118. DOI:
Published on 01 Dec 2020.
Peer Reviewed


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