To be the best immigration service in the region
We regulate the entry and exit of persons, and provide citizenship services, while safeguarding the nation's security & social order, and promoting economic development.
Powers, Duties and Functions Of The Immigration and Emigration Department
As mentioned in the preamble of Immigrants and Emigrants act no 20 of 1948 it has been enacted to make provision;
Immigration and Emigration department is established to implement the provisions of the Act.
The controller and other officers appointed under the provisions of the section 4 of the act are empowered to exercise, perform, or discharge of the powers, duties, or functions, conferred, imposed, or assigned by or under the Immigrants and emigrants act. Powers conferred by section 2 or section 31 or section 52 should be exercised by the minister him self. (See sections 4, 5, 6, & 7 of the act. / See part II of the Immigrants and Emigrants Act for the administrative arrangements. )
Entry into Sri Lanka of persons other than citizens of Sri Lanka is controlled according to the provisions of part III of the act. This part is related to the matters connected with approved ports of entry, documents required at the entry, requirement of visa to entry into & stay in Sri Lanka, medical & other examinations upon arrival, inspection of persons & their belongings and detention & removal of certain persons from Sri Lanka.
Activities of persons other than citizens of Sri Lanka during their stay are supervised under the powers conferred by the part IV of the act.
Removal & deportation of persons other than citizens of Sri Lanka is carried out when necessary within the powers conferred by the parts V & VI of the act.
Departure of persons from Sri Lanka is controlled by the part VII of the act. This part contains the provisions relating to the approved ports of departure, requirement of valid passport and making regulations connected to there in. The provisions of this part apply to the citizens of Sri Lanka as well as foreign nationals.
History of Immigration & Emigration and Citizenship of Sri Lanka
Immigration & Emigration before Independence
During the period when Ceylon was a British colony, entry into and exit from Sri Lanka (then Ceylon) was controlled by the following ordinances:
Foreign Recruiting Ordinance 1874 was enacted to, control recruiting in Ceylon, for the service of foreign states. BY this law, governor was authorized to, prohibit recruiting persons, for service of foreign states beyond the limits of Ceylon; or permit to do so subject to conditions.
Ceylon Emigrants Ordinance 1882 was enacted to; regulate the emigration of Ceylonese laborers from, Ceylon under contract of service. By this law, governor was empowered to, declare places where Ceylonese laborers were allowed to, emigrate. It was subject to the condition that such contracts should be signed before a magistrate.
Destitute Immigrants Ordinance1907 was enacted to, restrict immigration into Ceylon of destitute, and vicious persons, and of stowaways. The main objective of this law was, preventing the entry of persons, who would be a liability to the Treasury. By this law a person other than a native of Ceylon or native of British India, who was unable, by reason of physical or mental infirmity, to maintain himself by his own labor, or is destitute, was not permitted to land. Entry of such a person was permitted only on a bond entered into by a local to the effect that he would repay to the financial secretary any cost and charges, may be incurred in respect of such destitute immigrant. The entry into Ceylon of any prostitute or any person living on the prostitution, too was prohibited by this law.
Emigration ordinance 1917 was enacted to regulate the emigration of persons from Ceylon for the purpose of employment in certain capacities outside the island. In this law emigrant was defined as a native person living in Ceylon and Indian emigrant was defined as a native person of India, other than a person who has obtained a pass under any law in force in British India regulating the issue of passes to Indian emigrants.Provision was made in this law to, both emigrants and Indian emigrants to obtain the consent of chief secretary in writing for embarkation. Only the persons who were over seventeen years of age were granted with consent. They were required to obtain a pass from the collector of customs and enter into a bond with the crown. Further they had to keep a deposit of three hundred rupees with the collector of customs. The persons who were emigrating for employment purposes had to sign a service contract with their employer, and it should have been attested by the controller of customs. In addition to that, there were several provisions, regards to the responsibilities of masters of ships, powers of police officers to search and arrest, and medical examinations at the port, and penalties.
Passport Ordinance 1923 was enacted to make provision to take power to require passports of persons entering or departing from Ceylon. The governor was granted with powers to make regulations requiring that persons entering or departing from Ceylon should be on possession of passports, and matters related to that purpose. Further, he was empowered, to exempt of any person or class of persons from any provision of such regulations. The regulations made under this law were effected up to October 28 of 1949, until the new immigration and emigration regulations make under the immigrants and emigrants act no 20 of 1948, came into effect.
Aliens’ Registration Ordinance 1935 was enacted to make provision for the registration of aliens (a person other than a British subject or British protected person) in Ceylon. The registrar of aliens was appointed by the governor under the provision of this law. By this law, any alien who was intending to remain in the island for a period of one month or longer was ordered to furnish a return to the registrar. Further there was provision regards to the, restrictions of movements within the island, deportation of aliens, and verification of returns. So it was something similar to the visa requirements of present day.
Indian Criminel Tribes Immigration Ordinance 1939
Immigration & emigration After independence
Immigrants and Emigrants Act No. 20 of 1948
After gaining Independence from British, the then Parliament promulgated the Immigrants and Emigrants Act No. 20 of 1948. It was assented on October 6, 1948 and came into effect on 1 November 1949. In this Act, provisions was made, to control of entry and remain of non-Ceylonese, to regulate the departure from Ceylon the citizens, and persons other than the citizens of Ceylon , to remove or deport non-Ceylonese who have committed offences under the act or who are undesirables, to supervise the activities of non Ceylonese during their stay in Ceylon, and to organize the administrative set-up for the implementation of the above objectives and matters incidental thereto and connected therein. Regulations made under the Act were published in the Gazette no 10039 issued on 28 October 1949.
Emigration of Indians from Ceylon ordinance, foreign recruiting ordinance, Indian criminal tribes’ immigration ordinance, Destitute Immigrants Ordinance, Emigration ordinance, Passport Ordinance, Aliens registration ordinance, & Ceylon emigrants’ ordinance, were repealed by this law.
Immigrants and Emigrants Act No. 20 of 1948 has been amended at several occasions by the Amendment Acts no 16 of 1955, no 68 of 1961, no 16 of 1993, no 42 of 1998, and no 31 of 2006 respectively.
Significant changes made by these amendments were as follows.
Provisions on permanent & temporary residents permits of main act were repealed and resident visa provisions were included instead of them by the Amendment Act no 16 of 1955.
The governor general was empowered to authorize any member of the forces to exercise and discharge powers and duties under the immigrants and emigrants act, by the Amendment Act no 68 of 1961. The aim of this amendment was to stop illicit immigrant entering into the country.
In 1972 Ceylon became a republic. The name of the country was changed as the democratic socialist republic of Sri Lanka. After that, immigrants and emigrants act has been amended thrice, in 1993, 1998, and 2006 respectively. All those occasions it was regard to restrict illicit emigrants from Sri Lanka as well as illicit immigrants remain in Sri Lanka.
In addition to that following related laws were enacted for specific purposes mentioned below.
Temporary Residence Tax Act no 15 of 1971 was enacted to; make provision for the levy and recovery of a tax computed with reference to the stay in Sri Lanka of certain persons who are not citizens of Sri Lanka.
Passport (regulations) and Exit Permit Act no 53 of 1971 was enacted to provide for regulation and control of the issue and renewal of passports; for the issue of exit permits to citizen of Sri Lanka; and to impose an obligation on citizens of Sri Lanka employed abroad to remit a part of their earnings in foreign exchange to Sri Lanka.
Resident Guest (tax exemption) Act no 06 of 1979 was enacted to exempt certain categories of resident visa holders from certain taxes. Resident guests were granted with above exemption by this law.
Department of Immigration and Emigration
With the enactment of the immigration & emigration act, the necessity was aroused to establish a new department to implement the provisions of it. This new Department was established in October 1949 and started in Colombo Fort. The Assistant Secretary of the Ministry of Defense was transferred together with his staff to the newly formed Department. Police Department, which attended to the field duties, was requested to hand over of those functions to the newly formed Department. The implementation of the new law was postponed until 01st November 1949 till relief arrangements were made effected to those affected by the new Act. The practice of issuing British Passports to Citizens of Sri Lanka was stopped with effect from 01.11.1949. The New Ceylon Passport came into use from then, and the holder had to be a Citizen of Ceylon.
Before independence, every person born within the dominions and allegiance of the British Crown (and no other) was a British subject. Like wise native Ceylonese too was considered as British subjects. In some laws, enacted in pre independence era, they were being mentioned as native inhabitants, or otherwise natives of Ceylon. Meanwhile the Indians were mentioned as natives of India or otherwise natives of British India in the same laws.
Naturalization ordinance no 21 of 1890
There was no citizenship law in force at that time. But only the naturalization ordinance no 21 of 1890 was in force regards to the provisions for the naturalization of aliens. Under this law any alien who was actually residing in Ceylon could apply to the governor for rights and privileges as a British subject. This law was repealed by the citizenship act no 18 of 1948.
Citizenship act no 18 of 1948
Citizenship act was enacted to make provision for citizenship of Ceylon and for matters connected therewith and came into operation with effect from 15 November 1948 (appointed date). By this law established a status known as ‘the status of a citizen of Ceylon’ which status a person owns in one of two ways only viz. by right of descent as provided by the act or by virtue of registration as provided by the act or by any other act authorizing the grant of such status by registration.
Provisions were made by this law on, citizenship by descent, citizenship by registration, and loss of citizenship, initially. Later it was amended at several occasions, by Amendment Acts, no 40 of 1950, no 13 of 1955, no 45 of 1987, no 15 of 1993, no 43 of 1993, and no 16 of 2003, respectively.
Significant changes made by these amendments were as follows.
Provisions were made on resumption of citizenship and restriction on dual citizenship by the Act no 40 of 1950.
With the Amendment of Act no 45 of 1987, grant of Dual Citizenship provisions was commenced.
Registration as citizens, of persons registered in a resident guest scheme, under part III of immigrants and emigrants act, was provided by the Act no 43 of 1993.
Earlier the right of citizenship by descent was limited only to the paternal descent. With the enactment of the Amendment Act no 16 of 2003 it was extended even to the maternal descent with effect from the appointed date (1948-11-15) of the citizenship act.
Citizenship division of the Ministry of Defense under the Citizenship Act No.18 of 1948 was transferred later on to the Immigration Department. Accordingly activities of the Department expanded.
Indian and Pakistani Residents Citizenship Act no 3 of 1949.
Shortly after the enactment of citizenship act no 18 of 1948, the Indian and Pakistani residents’ citizenship bill was introduced. This was considered urgent and the Parliament passed the Indian and Pakistani residents Citizenship Act no; 3 of 1949 and came into operation on 5 august 1949. The Department for registration of Indian and Pakistani residents was set up, to implement the provisions of the act and Mr. V. L. Wirasinha was appointed the first commissioner, in addition to his holding the post of commissioner of parliamentary elections. Later this department was affiliated to the department of immigration and emigration. The attitude of Ceylon, towards the non Ceylonese in the country, who was genuinely desirous of merging with Ceylonese, is indicated in the provisions of this act. Under section 3 of this act, an Indian or Pakistani who had uninterrupted residence in Ceylon immediately prior to the 1st day of January, 1946, for a period of ten years in case of an unmarried person or a divorcee, or seven years in case of a married person, and had uninterrupted residence in Ceylon from that day to the date of the application, could apply for registration as a citizen and be so registered if he could satisfy the commissioners that he had lawful means of livelihood. 134,306 Indians and Pakistanis were issued with Ceylon Citizenship Certificates under the provisions of this Act. It was amended twice, by the Amendment Acts no 37 of 1950 and no 45 of 1952, respectively. Operation of this act came to end in 1962.
Indo Ceylon Agreement (implementation) Act No 14 of 1967.
The number of Indians who freely entered Ceylon under the British rule including of those who entered illicitly and merged with locals together with the natural increase amounted to a couple of Hundred Thousands. This national problem was the course for concern for every successive government and discussions were held intermittently with the Indian Government with a view to finding a solution. As a result of a discussion held in 1964 with Sri Lal Bahadur Shastri the Prime Minister of India and Madam Sirimavo R.D. Bandaranayaka the Prime Minister of Sri Lanka it was possible to arrive at a historic solution. Accordingly, the number of stateless persons in Sri Lanka was estimated with the natural increase at 9, 75,000. It was bi-laterally agreed to grant 375,000 persons with Sri Lanka Citizenship and 600.000 persons with Indian Citizenship. Action was mooted to give effect to the Indo Ceylon Agreement (implementation) act No 14 of 1967. Department for registration of persons of Indian origin was established to implement the provisions of above act. And it was affiliated to the department of immigration & emigration. The controller of immigration and emigration was appointed as the commissioner for registration of persons of Indian origin, in addition to his normal duties. Even though India agreed to grant Indian citizenship for 6, 00,000 persons, only 5, 06,000 persons applied for Indian citizenship. Therefore Sri Lanka accepted to grant Sri Lankan citizenship to the balance 94,000 persons, by enacting grant of citizenship to the stateless persons act no 05of 1986. Likewise agreed numbers of granting citizenship in both countries were changed as 5, 06,000 persons for India, and 4, 69,000 persons for Sri Lanka.
Grant of Citizenship to Stateless Persons (special provisions) Act no 39 of 1988
2, 36,000 persons with their natural increase, out of above mentioned 4, 69,000 persons were granted with Sri Lanka citizenship up to 1988.The necessity of expediting the functions was aroused. Therefore the grant of citizenship to stateless persons (special provisions) act no; 39 of 1988 was enacted to grant Sri Lanka citizenship to the balance 2, 33,000 persons and their natural increase. Persons of Indian origin, who have applied for Sri Lanka citizenship under the provisions of indo Ceylon agreement – 1964, but unable to obtain it up to 1988, were conferred with the status of citizen of Sri Lanka with effect from the date of commencement (1988-11-11) of this act. This act was amended once, to make provision to enable persons who were permanent residents of Sri Lanka with Indian origin since 30 October 1964 and their descendents who were compelled to leave Sri Lanka due to reasons beyond their control and are presently residing in India, to have the status of citizen of Sri Lanka with effect from the date of commencement of the principal enactment by the Amendment Act no 05 of 2009.
Grant of Citizenship to Persons of Indian Origin Act no 35 of 2003
3,42,000 persons out of above mentioned 5,06,000 persons were repatriated to India , with their natural increase, after granting Indian citizenship, up to year 1983. The balance 1,64,000 persons and their natural increase could not repatriated to India due to certain problems such as trafficking and sheltering in Tamil Nadu aroused with the ethnic conflict of Sri Lanka started in 1983. Some of them were not granted with Indian citizenship, some were granted and issued with Indian travel documents, but continued to reside in Sri Lanka. Grant of citizenship to persons of Indian origin act no; 35 of 2003 was enacted to grant Sri Lankan citizenship to them. The status of citizen of Sri Lanka was conferred on them with effect from the date of commencement (2003-11-11) of this act. Provided however, the grant of the status of a citizen of Sri Lanka to a permanent resident, who on the date of coming into operation of this Act, holds an Indian Passport or other similar document, shall be effective only on his forwarding to the Commissioner a declaration in the special form of declaration set out in the Schedule, stating his intention to voluntarily acquire citizenship of Sri Lanka, and upon such declaration being acknowledged by the Commissioner in writing. In this Act, 'Commissioner' means the Commissioner for the Registration of Persons of Indian Origin.This act was amended once, to make provision to enable persons who were permanent residents of Sri Lanka with Indian origin since 30 October 1964 and their descendents who were compelled to leave Sri Lanka due to reasons beyond their control and are presently residing in India, to have the status of citizen of Sri Lanka with effect from the date of commencement of the principal enactments by the Amendment Act no 06 of 2009. With the enactment of this act, long term existed problem on citizenship of Indian origin persons of Sri Lanka was solved and concluded.
Significant differences of act no 39 of 1988 & act no 35 of 2003 when compare with previous enactments on citizenship
In all previous enactments, a person has to apply for citizenship and it has to be granted under the law, by registration. It was completely different in these two enactments. The status of Sri Lanka citizenship was conferred on all eligible persons of Indian origin who have not obtained Sri Lanka citizenship under the previous enactments. They need not to apply for it, but got it effortlessly.
Further, there was no requirement to have a citizenship certificate to prove their citizenship. It was ordered to accept an affidavit as prima facie evidence of status of citizenship of such a person, for any purpose under section 4 of both acts.
Grant of Citizenship to Chinese Origin Persons act no 38 of 2008
Even after the conclusion of the citizenship problem of the Indian origin persons, there was small number of persons of Chinese origin, living in Sri Lanka as stateless. Most of them or their parents have immigrated to Sri Lanka during the Second World War period, before independence. Therefore this law was enacted to grant them with Sri Lanka citizenship by registration with effect from 31 October 2008. This act shall be in force for a period of five years from that date. So it will be terminated on 30 October 2013. Person who is entitled for Sri Lankan citizenship under this law, should forward his applications to the controller of immigration and emigration. After scrutinizing the application the controller should transmit it to the minister for approval. When the approval is granted, applicant has to make or subscribe the oath or affirmation as required by the act, and he will be deem to be a citizen of Sri Lanka from that date. With the enactment of this law, stateless problem of Sri Lanka was solved and came to a conclusion.