Colombo: Facing a shortage of labourers, Sri Lanka plans to grant work visas to Indians to harvest paddy in the country`s north and east, a media report said on Sunday.
"The government is helpless as our people are leaving the country to work as labourers in West Asia, Singapore, South Korea and Italy," Lankan Agricultural Minister Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena was quoted as saying in the Sunday Times.
He said the Indians were working in the paddy fields in the country`s north and east having arrived on tourist visas.
"It (the labour shortage) is now spreading to the North-Central and Southern provinces too," he added.
Abeywardena said when the proposal to give work visas to Indians came into force, a request to the Immigration Department should come from the Agriculture or the Labour Ministry. This would also be discussed with the Defence Ministry.
He said the farmer community in the Ampara, Batticaloa, Kilinochchi, Polonnaruwa, Trincomalee and Vavuniya districts had requested District Secretaries to allow South Indians to work in the fields as there was a shortage of labours.
The paper quoted Investment Promotion Minister Lakshman Yapa Abeywardena as saying "We have to bring down labourers on six month visas. Similarly there are many sectors and companies that bring down labourers from India, China, the Maldives and other countries."
Agriculture Ministry Secretary W Sakalasooriya said, "The farmers say that the Indians can be employed on a low wage. They can do more work and these labourers know how to operate the harvesting machines efficiently."
Immigration officials said a number of Indian labourers had been arrested for over staying the one month visit visa.
"These Indians are not deported but are sent back to India on humanitarian grounds. They can come back and work in paddy fields," the paper quoted Immigration officer as saying.
Sri Lanka last year stopped its on arrival visa policy for citizens other than Singaporeans and Maldivians.
Travellers are now required to apply at Lankan missions overseas for on line visit visas for all travel to the island.