Sri Lanka: Security Clearance for Marriage

Sri Lanka’s visa process for foreign spouses is already burdensome enough, without the added nuisance of the Defence Ministry now getting involved.

This past weekend it was revealed that from 1 January, foreigners wishing to marry a Sri Lankan citizen would require a ‘Security Clearance Report’ from the Ministry of Defence. The move, which understandably has gone down about as well as a lead balloon, has been defended by the Government as one in the name of national security.

To be specific, the Government believes the move will go a long way in curbing money laundering and drug trafficking, as they claim to have information that suggests foreign nationals marrying Sri Lankans makes up a significant portion of such activity.

This, coming from the very same Government that passed a Tax Amnesty Bill earlier this year, allowing for the repatriation of previously undisclosed funds located abroad – a move that was itself widely criticised for benefitting money launderers.

So unsurprisingly, just a day removed from the requirement being revealed, a legal complaint has already been filed against it on human rights grounds, while social media has been rife with condemnation of the move.

Sri Lanka’s visa process for foreign spouses is already burdensome enough, without the added nuisance of the Defence Ministry now getting involved.

Indeed, it resurfaces the conversation surrounding the heavily belaboured spousal visa process, which as it stands requires foreign nationals to renew it every two years – and that too only after five years of marriage.

This would not be an issue in and of itself if the process for renewing a spousal visa was straight forward; however, the red tape involved, and the general disorganised nature of the process, makes it quite tedious. This is something that has long been a grouse off foreign nationals married to Sri Lankans.

In some instances, if the visa renewal is unable to be completed in time and the foreign spouse in question is abroad while the visa expires, while re-entering the country to renew is not an issue, local bank accounts under the foreign spouse may nevertheless be frozen as per bank protocols.

None of this would be half as inconvenient if there was a straightforward path for foreign nationals to gain citizenship; however, that too is not forthcoming; as it stands, dual citizenship is only an option for Sri Lankan citizens who wish to gain citizenship in another country.

As for the reasoning behind such a convoluted visa system, the Government is fond of citing security concerns. However, even nations as vigilant security-wise as India have far more welcoming visa processes – in India’s case, a foreign national can apply for an Overseas Citizenship of India once married to an Indian national; this process can be completed through a consulate, and then does not need further renewal, subject to the continuance of the marriage.

In this context, adding a further layer to the process for foreigners looking to marry Sri Lankans seems counterproductive to its goals as a country.

In the experience of Singapore, India, Vietnam and most other dynamic economies, three channels of knowhow transfer stand out: FDI, immigration and diaspora networks. All these are linked to the free movement of people, and if Sri Lanka continues to make it hard to allow people from around the world to live and work in Sri Lanka, in limited numbers obviously, achieving growth could be slower.

Just this year, a Digital Nomad Visa was announced to be in the works, which was hailed as a forward-thinking move. However, when paired with regressive offerings such as security clearance reports for potential foreign spouses – which should really be covered by the immigration department, such as in countries like the US – muddled, confused and pointless seem far more apt descriptors of present Government thinking.

Daily FT

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