New work visa regulations frustrating business

Picture-perfect hotels and superb service are synonymous with Maldives tourism.

However the country’s number one industry has always grappled with a shortage of skilled workers.

To counter this dozens of skilled foreign workers enter the Maldives each year, so the recent change in procedures and requirements for work visas has thrown the industry into disarray.

“What we didn’t need was to re-invent the wheel,” says Ibrahim ‘Sim’ Mohamed, secretary general of the Maldivian Tourism Industry (MATI).

“Every day it becomes more difficult to operate tourism related businesses because of the changes in requirements and procedures for work permits,” Sim said.

The Honorary consul of Italy, Giorgia Marazzi, echoes a similar thought.

“The procedures are long and confusing now, and even 50 year old tourism professionals are obliged to show certificates,” he says.

Problematic Procedures

Regulations surrounding work visas were recently changed. A deposit [to cover the worker’s return airfare] is paid to the Department of Immigration and Emigration, while the Ministry of Human resources issues an employment approval form. This must be translated into a work visa by the Department of Immigration.

“The sudden change, coupled with the fact that requirements are so high and stringent now, makes it difficult to comply with [the regulation] in some cases,” says Sim.

MATI members have complained about the issue in numerous meetings and forums, saying they need full time staff just to complete the paperwork and queue at the relevant ministries.

Among the problems identified is the lack of information sharing between relevant ministries.

Giorgia recounts the case of an Italian businessman who came to town and registered a company related to tourism and diving. He registered the logo and opened a bank account only to be refused a work permit.

“If you are promoting investment you have to enable a person to work legally in the country,” Giorgia said.

“Ministries should cooperate and have a comprehensive network of information and not work against each other.”

According to Mohamed Anees, HR manager of Sunhotels, “even if the deposit was paid at the HR ministry before the change in procedure, when you go to the Department of Immigration with the paper work you might be asked to pay the deposit again.”

An exasperated Sim accuses the different departments of “fighting for territory. Controller of Immigration Ilyas Hussain begs to differ.

‘It’s a misunderstanding on their part to think like that. There is no turf war, and we just give out work visas once the employment approval form is given by the HR ministry, and then people can work here legally.”

He adds the rise in deposit money is also to provide a few days’ accommodation in case a person has to be sent back.

“As immigration controller we need some sort of guarantee, and we need to see certificates to issue work visas. We deal with the money now, while HR deals with administrative issues.”

He says tourism industry should instead worry about paying bed taxes and other money owed to the government on time.

The need to show educational and trade certificates is a particularly contentious issue.

“It has to be attested, but lawyers and consulates attest it without even verifying the origin [of the certificates],” says Giorgia.

Anees agrees that the procedures are difficult and a necessary evil: “We bring foreigners as we can’t find skilled people here, so it makes sense to ask for certificates, and sometimes they reject the papers saying they’re not up to the mark.”

But he finds the amount taken as deposit money too high.

“It should be at maximum the amount of a return ticket to the country of origin, but now they are asking for much more.”

Anees also has problems with the HR ministry’s quota system for hiring foreign employees. At present the HR ministry dictates how many foreign workers a particular company can hire. The ministry also decides which jobs foreign employees can hold and the number of foreigners who can be employed in a particular job category.

“Sometimes we have to change job positions as per requirements, and then we are obliged to go through the whole process of advertising and all that.”

Instead, he reasons, a quota should be given and left up to the resort to fill as required.

Both Giorgia and Anees also feel that scrapping the requirement of a police report is a mistake: “You don’t know what shady people might turn up in the Maldives then.”

Shortage of skilled personnel

At the heart of the matter is a lack of skilled Maldivians.

“It is costly to bring in foreigners, but to train Maldivians takes money and man-hours, so some opt for the faster and easier option,” reasons Sim.

A businessman, who asked not to be named, working in the tourism sector says, he advertised for 20 job positions recently ranging from laborers to manager positions and got only one applicant, who was a foreigner: “in the Maldives there is no unemployment – it’s all voluntary [unemployment].”

According to statistics from the tourism industry, out of the 54 resorts in the study 27 were unable to attain the 50% Maldivian staff requirement. It was interesting to note that its was mostly resorts with foreign management that had the highest number of Maldivian employees.

“It is a colossal failure on the part of past and present governments that they hadn’t addressed this human resource issue,” Sim says.

He points out that Maldives gets more arrivals, there are more resorts opening up and resorts are of a higher standard, “yet the country lacks manpower.”

Societal attitudes also play a role: only white collar jobs are sought after by Maldivians.

“We have failed to imbibe in our youth the notion that work is dignified no matter what you do,” says Sim.

The education system is also not geared towards producing people for the main industries of Maldives, like tourism, fishing and construction, he complains.

The policy of running vocational training parallel to the education system the last 12 years has not paid off, he says, and every now and then parliamentarians whip up the issue to garner publicity and sympathy instead of working towards finding a permanent solution to the problem.

“We expected the new ministers to be more open and liberal minded, and instead things have gotten worse,” Sim says.

Deputy HR minister Hussain Ismail agrees procedures are now more restrictive.

“Before it was as businessmen wanted,” he says, adding enough forewarning was given before the implementation of new procedures.

“The different departments do share information, but of course there are hitches which we are trying to smooth out.”

As for the problem of certificates, Hussain says the ministry is now even accepting trade certificates.

“If a person does not have educational qualifications, he should be able to produce a trade one from wherever he has worked. After all he is being hired for his skills.”

The lack of skilled Maldivians doesn’t wash with him, and he takes as an example the case of a seaplane company.

“The company advertises for pilots, and in addition to the pilot license they also ask for four credit passes in London ‘O’ levels.”

He says despite the fact that there are now lots of Maldivian pilots, they are not hired due to the criteria of having specific number of ‘O’ level passes.

“If companies are willing to train foreigners why not train Maldivians?” he asks.

Hussain says the authorities will not ease work visa requirements just to make it easy for business.

“We have to look into social issues also and take them into consideration,” he argues.

However tightening the work visa procedures without solving the underlying issues might make “the tourism industry grind to a halt very soon,” Sim warns.


14 thoughts on “New work visa regulations frustrating business”

  1. Every Maldivian knows that the problem when it comes to immigration is abominable. Our open spaces are no longer for us! Whomever goes to Jumhoori Maidhan or the artificial beach on Fridays anymore? Who rides a bicycle in a city that is less than 2 square miles. No Maldivian, because there are so many foreign laborers that our spaces are disappearing and xenophobic responses are spiraling out of control.

    But this does not give the right for any Ministry – whether it is Immigration or Tourism to tell a resort or other business what position they are required to have – unless it relates to human rights. Government cannot force a business to create positions based on their antiquated business models.

    And as for Human Resources – it is not only the failure of this government and the one before it, but also the failure of the TOURISM INDUSTRY itself. The Tourism Industry should be taking an active role in promoting better work ethics, responsibilities and yes, even SKILLS so that they can contribute to that industry. Sim has done work to contribute to youth development, but it is time MATI takes on some responsibility themselves instead of blaming the various Ministries.

    The government does have responsibility as well. What is needed now is a joint office between Immigration, Human Resources, and Tourism to ensure that our biggest industry (Tourism) is protected. Stop bickering and get things done Gentlemen.

  2. As a recruitment agent, and as the current chairman of the Maldivian Association for Employment Agencies, I have been experiencing the procedural difficulties very close. We have expressed our view that difficulties in procedure and unpractical methods will only lead to corruption. The Ministry of Human Resources has taken up matters to their hands to the point they dictate whom the resorts should recruit. I have seen situations where resort management have interviewed and selected candidates only to be rejected by the Ministry as “not qualified for the job”. This is absurd. It should be the management who decides who is fit for the job, as they are responsible for the sustenance of their business! Further more, the need for attestation of certificates is both costly and time consuming, and I believe it is for the employer to check whether the certificates are valid. The recent hard line on quota categorizing is also playing havoc as the business entities now do not have the freedom and flexibility to restructure their human recourses and organizational structure. Should they need, they have to put an advertisement, and go though enough hassle before even they can request for a category change, that also within the quota granted! The Ministry should listen to those they intend to serve, and should be of service to the people rather than be an obstacle for the people to perform their business.

  3. The employment related ministries are extreamly unprofessional and unproductive. They have no idea about the service industries such as tourism, medical, consulting, etc. The government urgently needs to be on the side of employers who help the economy grow! The regulations are now silly and does not help anyone!

  4. it happens when a lawyer starts making his stupid by the book decisions, first thing too many ministries for him .. labour, youth, sports, welfare, and if you look at him nobody knows him in male, how can he handle the youth, the only youths he knows is ibura and the gang, please mr president change this idiot before it's too late, they are just opportunist who are hellbent on enjoying the privileges .. nothing else

  5. Interesting! What a mess! Doesn't one ministry talk to the other before they come up with new regulations anymore?

    Why are we trying to reinvent the wheel?

  6. Its time for this idiosyncrotic government to go. Let us all raise our voices loud. Even those of us who lost never to regain again.

  7. this article highlights the evil that is government. i think we all now know where the axe should fall in the civil service cuts!

  8. Both the Human Resource Ministry and the Immigration Authority are acting STUPID! The Human Resource Ministry feels that it is them who should select those we should recruit. If they are not happy with the person, no matter how much we feel they can perform, we can't recruit them? Is is a Communist country? And the Immigration Dept seems to think each and every expat will become an illegal immigrant when they charge huge sums from each individual recruited? Isn't value of return ticket not enough? Please allow us to do business here!

  9. The current situation is just absurd. There is no administration; no set policies or procedures in these two (labour & immigration)ministries. The policies and procedures keep on changing every day. It looks like if their only aim is to make the business community go against the government. Their records are never updated, as soon as we submit the documents for the work permit the answer will be either no quota.This is the case most of the time even if there are 15-20 free quotas available in the site. Or they will say the site is black listed, the site is not black listed because of the fault of the employer but because the labour ministry and immigration systems are not updated - the work permit cancellations are not updated. We go to the labour ministry and tell them this person has already gone out of Maldives and here is the cancellation form with your acknowledgement, then they will say until immigration enters the departure date to the system they cannot cancel. Then we go to the immigration and they will either say they have already entered ot the labour ministry has not sent a request to cancel it. The employer will be walking between these two ministries dont know for how many days before the site can be cleared. Recently we had to produce the proof from the airline that a particular person has left the Maldives - and it took us nearly two weeks to clear the site during this period we could not submit any new documents; we could not do any extensions; and finally in addition to all the inconvenience that we got we had also to pay fine for their inefficiency.It is better not talk about the trade and academic certificates, and their attestation. We are the employer, we know exactly the requirment that we are looking for in a candidate for a particular post, but what happens some one who does not have a clue of our requirement/who does not have any experience in the hotel trade decides that this particular candidate is not qualified for this job. This is just ridiculous. These silly policies and procedure are doing nothing except making the employers frustrated and making it extremely difficult for the business to operate smoothly.

  10. Reading the artiacle i feel the tourism industry is looking for the easy way out, as ususal.

    It is customary to announce for jobs locally with the renumerations much lower than the market rate. The desired and actual outcome is no one applies. These people then justify their case to employ cheap labor.

    I am glad the Ministry is now checking the qualifications.

    Fact of the matter is foreigners are now occupying the local market plots, work in small shops, as accountants, IT personnel and in waste disposal. The small Maldivian enterprenuars are loosing out because they have to register, have an office must submit audited accounts etc.

    Something must be done to protect the locals.

  11. I run a construction business, and it is impossible for me to get local masons and carpenters, and when i apply for Work Permit for foreign workers, the Ministry is making it almost impossible for us to get work permits. They do not accept any application we submit. I have been employing foreign workers for more than 5 years, and those i employ are skilled and do a good job. I wonder why the Labour ministry have the opinion we have been employing people who lack skill. Can't they see the buildings and construction work in Maldives the past years. Can we do that without skilled people? Do they have to dictate to us which qualification our mason or accountant should have? Is it not for us to decide? At this rate i feel they may even take over our company saying this is how it should be run! The industry as a whole is in a recession, and to add to this neither the ministry or immigration authority is making things easier. Immigration is increasing the deposit values and visa fees as an when they wish. Now I am planning to wind up my business as i have no choice. I was expecting and voted for a center - right government from MDP! From where did the communists come?

  12. I support HR ministry's decision to enforce harsher conditions on employment of expatriates. There are so many foreigners, especially Bangladeshi workers that now they are now equivalent more than 1/3 of our population.

    Think of the social problems that have increased in the last ten years alone because of these theft, homosexuality, rapes & most importantly pedophilia. Females find it difficult to walk on the streets because on top of maldivian man harassing them, they now have to contend with these expats leering, bumping & harassing them. We can't open a newspaper without seeing photos of at least 6 expats who have gone missing. These expats are now even marrying into our society at a frightening rate & most of their aim is to get a marriage-related visa.
    It is high time businesses focused more on their responsibility towards the community & thought about all these problems that are being caused by the extra ordinary increase of expats. The expats who are in higher positions often make life difficult for the maldivian employees & as someone who worked in that industry, i have seen this happen often.
    The tourism industry could train more maldivians & there are many who are interested to work in this field. But when it comes to lower level posts, most businesses prefer to bring cheap labour from abroad to save costs. Like the Deputy HR Minister says, the businesses attach so many conditions, like someone with experience & a degree may not get the job because he/she didn't get a good o'level result. Employers need to be less picky & give maldivians a chance to prove themselves.

  13. Just wonna say that how you the white people get skilled? Just saying that we Maldivian don't have the skill is not right....and its misleading the people. I have seen that Most of the Resorts in Maldives that locals are hired lower then a expatriate even if the Maldivian have more skill and the experience. In some resort they used say that we are foreign company that we dont have to respect the local law. thats what is happening here in Maldives that do you know how many resorts are running according to the Maldivian laws.....Just think about this also before you say something, Dont think always about how you will be benefited but respect others.....


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