Bangladeshi nationals will be issued work visas by the Maldives High Commission in the national capital of Dhaka, in an attempt to address booming numbers of workers arriving in the country.
Immigration Controller Abdulla Shahid told Minivan News that Bangladeshi workers would require additional documents verified and issued in Bangladesh before their work visas and ID cards could be issued in the Maldives.
Following the cabinet decision to implement the changes on Tuesday (June 7), Minivan News understands that the government will outline the particulars of the new system during a press conference early next week.
Newspaper Haveeru reported that the decision would also include a programme to identify and deport illegal workers currently in the country.
Shahid has previously estimated that the number of expatriate workers in the Maldives would reach 100,000 in June – a third of the population. The government has no figures, but estimates that up to half that number may be illegal.
The high percentage of foreign workers relative to the Maldives’ foreign currency income has forced the government to confront the country’s heavy reliance on expatriate labour as part of wider economic reforms.
A recent report by economics lecturer and Assistant Manger of the Maldives Monetary Authority (MMA)’s Monetary policy and Research Division, Ibrahim Ameer, estimated that each expatriate worker was remitting US$100 per month to their families back home.
Ameer estimated that this was draining the country of US$8 million in foreign currency every month – in comparison, a greater amount than the country was earning from the Tourism GST.
Former Bangladeshi High Commissioner Professor Selina Mohsin told Minivan News last year that 40 Bangladeshi nationals were arriving at reception daily, “having come to the Maldives and found they have nothing to do.”
In early 2010, as an experiment, Professor Mohsin stopped attesting work permit requests and observed that this hardly dented arrivals.
Under Maldivian law, foreign workers arriving in the Maldives must have a work permit issued by the Immigration Department. This is obtained through an employer or agent, who must first request a foreign worker quota from the Ministry of Trade and Human Resources.
“The Maldivian [side] gets into connection with the Bangladeshi brokers, gets a business permit from the Ministry of Human Resources, says they want to recruit and gets a quota for more workers than they require – if they require any at all – and then ask a Bangladeshi counterpart to bring in the workers,” Professor Mohsin said in an earlier interview with Minivan News, explaining that brokers would then charge individual workers between up to US$4000 to arrange their employment in the Maldives.
In many cases the family home and land was sold or mortgaged to raise this fee, split two-thirds in favour of the Maldivian broker.
One application that arrived on her desk – approved by the Ministry of Human Resources – was a request for 1800 workers for an unspecified construction project.
“Those people would have come [to Male’] had I not checked. Had I not done it, 1800 people would have sold their homes and become delinquent in the Maldives. This did not bother a Maldivian broker. Hell is not good enough for the people who are doing this,” Professor Mohsin told Minivan News at the time.
One broker investigated last year by Bangladeshi authorities was thought to be involved in a labour trafficking operation to the Maldives worth upwards of US$3.6 million.
Shahid acknowledged that the forging of documents in both the Immigration Department and the Human Resources Ministry was the subject of an ongoing police investigation.
The new requirements would not impact the Maldives’ policy of issuing tourist visas on arrival, he said, as this was already policed by requiring visitors to have a pre-existing hotel reservation.
Meanwhile, immigration authorities today arrested three people for attempting to leave the country on fake passports, including a Malaysian man, a Chinese woman and her 18 year old son.
Haveeru reported that the Malayisan man was believed to have arranged false Taiwanese passports for the other two passengers that were arrested.
Police said the matter was a suspected case of human trafficking.