Major resort operators in the Maldives have expressed serious concern with the country’s escalating visa crisis, claiming a failure to resolve the ongoing problems is leading to an inability to hire critical foreign personnel and stranding existing workers in the country.
Speaking on condition of anonymity, management for several exclusive resort properties in the Maldives expressed alarm that inefficiencies processing visas were not only preventing the hiring of foreign workers, but also preventing staff from being able to leave the country.
These concerns were aired as the Department of Immigration expressed confidence it would be able to clear a backlog of visa documentation for foreign workers, during an 11 day period in which it would not be accepting new applications.
Immigration authorities said the halt was necessary to improve service by clearing a backlog of documents uploaded online, however multiple resorts accused the department of being “inefficient” and “sporadic”.
A senior representative for one multinational group operating properties across the country said the company’s human resources team had raised issues with immigration not accepting visa applications between August 8 to August 18.
The source said the concerns reflected a wider problem with hiring foreign staff. The company said the delays had forced it to delay hiring vital staff, which was impacting the guest experience.
The general manager of another exclusive resort agreed that a failure to address ongoing problems obtaining visas for foreign nationals remained a “real issue”.
“We have staff members whose visas have now expired who cannot leave the country for various reasons such as annual leave, and sometimes really serious issues,” the manager said.
The source claimed that services provided by the country’s immigration department was “sporadic”, with individual applications taking an unpredictable amount of time to be processed.
“This all needs to be done by one government department instead of three, and the entire system needs less people working more efficiently,” the manager added.
The resort source said the decision of immigration authorities to suspend new applications for work visas for 11 days this month had hampered efforts to recruit needed staff during the busy Eid period.
Despite the concerns raised by private employers, Health Ministry Permanent Secretary Geela Ali said state authorities had been consulted by immigration authorities in advance of not accepting visa applications.
Geela said that as a major employer of foreigners, both the health and education ministries had been given a period of two to three days to fast track any urgent requests for expatriate labour in order to minimise impacts to their operations while the visa system was “repaired”.
She added that while there would still be some difficulties for the ministries due to the ongoing work by immigration officials, the work was anticipated to allow for a more efficient visa system after completion.
Immigration Department Spokesperson Ibrahim Ashraf told Minivan News that the expat online system remained functional this week, although users would be unable to submit any visa applications for processing.
“Thousands of documents have been uploaded and there seem to be a number of counterfeit documents among these,” he said. “We are confident this this backlog will be cleared and new staff have also now been trained to oversee work going forward.”
The immigration department has previously announced that it would be hiring 30 staff to help oversee a comprehensive audit of the visa system.
Ashraf claimed that there was particular concern about business and individual applicants looking to obtain a foreign worker quota or visa by uploading documents that were either incorrect, irrelevant or fraudulent .
Immigration officials earlier this year dismissed reports of a “flaw” in the country’s online expatriate registration system, instead expressing concern that the technology was open to abuse by registered companies.
The Immigration Department confirmed at the time that authorities faced challenges in verifying whether construction projects were real, or a front to smuggle foreign labour into the country, but told Minivan News it had expected to resolve the issue by July.
Trapped in the Maldives
Minivan News has in recent months been informed of a growing number expatriates working in both the public and private sector who have been stranded in the Maldives by immigration authorities due to a failure of state and private employers to renew visa documentation.