The recently introduced exit permit scheme has been suspended indefinitely after complaints about the regulation, which requires foreign workers to obtain permission from their employers before leaving the country.
Immigration Information Officer Hassan Khaleel told Minivan News today that the regulation was suspended after several complaints from different organisations, including numerous airlines and NGOs.
“The exit permit issue has been suspended from today onwards. We will consider and address every single complaint received and look at the regulation from several perspectives before re-implementing,” he explained.
The regulation, which came to effect on October 19, required expatriate workers to present a form signed by their employer at airport immigration before leaving the country.
Speaking at the time, Khaleel explained that the introduction of the exit permit system came after requests from employers concerned at the number of expatriate workers leaving the country without their employer’s permission.
He added that the immigration department believed the new regulations might help lessen the illegal practice of withholding passports – which has been described as ‘rampant’ in the Maldives by the US State Department.
Local NGO Transparency Maldives (TM) expressed concern, however, that the exit permits would exacerbate the well-documented abuses within the immigration system.
Advocacy and communications manager at TM, Aiman Rasheed, said that the regulation might have the same effect of withholding the travel documents of the worker, leading to the “employer having control over the mobility of the worker”.
“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,” said Aiman.
While exact figures are unavailable, the number of expatriate workers in the Maldives has been estimated to be as high as 200,000 – equivalent to two thirds of the local population.
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) watchlist.
Exit permit systems are also operated in other nations with large numbers of expatriate workers – such as the UAE and Qatar, although Qatar announced earlier this year that it was to abolish the practice after pressure from human rights groups.