Foreign workers in the Maldives will be required to obtain permission from their employer before leaving the country from today (October 19).
The exit permit requirement – announced via local media on Thursday (October 16) – is now being implemented, with expatriate workers required to present a form, signed by their employer, at airport immigration.
“The procedure is simple,” explained the immigration department’s Information Officer Hassan Khaleel.
“The employer needs to fill out the form and hand it over to the employee. The employee is required to submit it to the immigration counter at the time of departure.”
The abuse of exit permit systems elsewhere has led to condemnation from international human rights groups, with local NGO Transparency Maldives today expressing concern over the scheme’s use in the Maldives.
While exact figures are unavailable, the number of expatriate workers in the country has been estimated to be as high as 200,000 – equivalent to two thirds of the local population.
Although the majority of these workers are Bangladeshi, Bangladeshi High Commissioner Rear Admiral A.S.M.A Awal has told Minivan News he has not yet been informed of the new exit permit procedures.
During the first week of the permit’s use, allowances will be made due to the short notice given regarding exit permit procedure, explained Khaleel.
“It will not be very strict for the first week. Airport staff will ask for the form and may call employers to check for a period of time.”
He explained that the introduction of the permit system had come after requests from employers concerned at the number of expatriate workers leaving the country without permission.
The illegal practice of withholding the passports of migrant workers – described as “rampant” in the Maldives by the US State Department – may also be lessened as a result of the new permit scheme, added Khaleel.
Potential for abuse
Advocacy and communications manager at TM, Aiman Rasheed, has expressed concern that the exit permits will exacerbate the well-documented abuses within the immigration system.
“Requiring an exit permit to depart from Maldives may have the same effect as withholding travel documents, that is, the employer has control of the mobility of the worker,” explained Rasheed.
“While this is an infringement on the freedom of movement for workers, it also presents opportunities for perpetuation of bondage, trafficking, etc, by limiting movement of the worker.”
Long viewed as a country with a poor record on combatting human trafficking, the Maldives was this year removed from the US State Department’s Trafficking in Persons (TIP) report watchlist.
A government report in 2011 has revealed the scale of the problem, with human trafficking said to be the Maldives’ second most lucrative industry after tourism – worth an estimated US$123 million a year. In 2013, Bangladeshi authorities temporarily halted migration of its nationals, blaming the failure of local authorities to address the problem.
After four consecutive years on the TIP watchlist, the Maldives avoided potential sanctions this year after the introduction of the Anti-trafficking Act in December 2013.
“Serious problems in anti-trafficking law enforcement and victim protection remained,” said the TIP report, which noted that an unknown number expatriate workers in the country experienced forced labour.
Exit permit systems are also operated in other nations with large numbers of expatriate workers – such the UAE and Qatar, although Qatar announced earlier this year that it was to abolish the practice after pressure from human rights groups.
Human Rights Watch noted last year that the Qatari system “unfairly shackles foreign workers to their Qatari employers, opening them up to unfair treatment and exploitation.”
Khaleel told Minivan News today that the immigration department was aware of the potential for abuse inherent within the system.
“If there are any disputes employers should approach the Labour Relations Authority. They are responsible for disputes and breaches of contract,” he explained.
Any workers requiring further information on the exit permit system can contact airport immigration on 332 0452 or 794 0452.
The exit permit form can be downloaded here.