Expatriate “troubles” exacerbated by lack of border policy, says immigration head

The Maldives’ Controller of Immigration has claimed the country must address previous failures to adopt an immigration policy if it wants to protect and control an expatriate workforce that he says is estimated to at least equal the number of domestic labourers.

Abdulla Shahid, appointed back in February as the nation’s immigration chief, said that a lack of any kind of immigration controls or policy in the Maldives had left valuable foreign workers facing “inhumane” treatment and a host of other problems once inside the country.

Speaking to Minivan News, Shahid said that despite the country’s long history of bringing skilled and unskilled foreign workers to its shores reaching as far back as the 1950’s, both the current and previous government had failed to put any measures in place to outline numbers of foreign workers or their employment conditions.

Both Shahid and the High Commissioner of Bangladesh to the Maldives, Rear Admiral Abu Saeed Mohamed Abdul Awal, have claimed that authorities from both countries were now trying to devise a new legal framework that they claim is needed to protect the rights of foreign workers.

Earlier this week, Qatar-based newspaper the Gulf Times reported that the Maldives was seeking to bring in a number of public procurement experts from Bangladesh to assist with the country’s climate change adaption plans, as well as an additional 20,000 people for employment in the construction, textiles and tourism industries.

However, Shahid said that he was not aware of any such figure being set by himself or Maldivian authorities, adding that the country needed to first begin putting in place measures to ensure the numbers of immigrant workers were controlled, while also protecting their rights.

According to the controller of immigration, the number of foreign workers coming to the Maldives on an annual basis was estimated to have doubled in recent years, with the number of legal immigrants reaching 92,000 as of this month – up from 87,000 on March 1, 2011. Migrant labourers constitute almost a third of the Maldives’ total population.

While expat growth between 2009 and 2010 was deemed to be “not significant”, Shahid said he believed that a host of new infrastructure projects in areas such as airport construction and new home creation proposed by the government was likely to lead to growing interest in the country by foreign labourers.

“My argument is – should we send workers back? We have a population of 300,000 people here in the Maldives and its local workforce, I think, is equal to the number of foreigners employed here,” he said. “I’m not saying they are a nuisance; in my view, expats are a necessity here in the Maldives and without them many businesses and shops would struggle and be put out of business.”

Shahid claimed that after having spent two months in his current position as the national immigration controller, he believed it was now vital to look at other countries that have employed migration policies and see how the Maldives might follow.

“I’ve seen in Australia and the US that there are policies on immigrants and expats,” he said. “For instance, they will set out a system quota, say for 300 professionals in a specific field, but we do not do that. Both the previous government and ourselves have not done a comprehensive policy review.”

However, the immigration controller claimed that it was vital for authorities to first decide on an actual policy for foreign workers before they can begin reviewing the effectiveness of controls.

“What is this policy? What I am saying is that we need to produce a plan of action for immigration,” he said. “Do we decide to bring in an immigration policy or not? Without immigration a lot of businesses and shops would have to close down.”

Amidst these possible economic concerns, Shahid added that it would be vital to formulate and then have the Majlis agree on an immigration policy, such as setting an annual cap on the number of expats allowed to enter the country.

He claimed that greater control would, in theory, ensure stricter regulation in terms of forcing employers to provide better quality living standards to their expat workers, conditions that he said were known to be “inhumane” in certain cases.

The immigration controller said that an estimated 42,000 were working illegally in the country as of last year; a figure he claimed that if correct, would have probably risen again since.

According to Shahid, previous plans to try and slow down the influx of foreign workers had not worked.

However, along with trying to outline a national immigration plan, Shahid denied that ongoing uncertainty over the future of a deal with Malaysia-based mobile security firm Nexbis – involving installing an advanced border control system to collect and store biometric data on expatriate workers – had added to immigration concerns. In January this year, the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) ordered a halt on a government contract between the Department of Immigration and Malaysian mobile security firm Nexbis, claiming that there were instances where corruption may have occurred.

Facing political pressure ahead of February’s local council elections, President Mohamed Nasheed decided to uphold the ACC’s request that the roll-out of the technology be postponed. Nexbis responded that it would be taking legal action against parties in the Maldives, claiming that speculation over allegations of potential corruption was “politically motivated” in nature.

Shahid was not convinced the delays were playing into the hands of unscrupulous employers though.

“This issue [with the Nexbis deal] is not really a problem, we have only one issue with an immigrant who got through border control illegally,” Shahid said. “All other workers have come with the proper documents and the required work sponsor. However, it is after they arrive here that things go wrong and the problems start.”

Based himself in the capital of Male’, High Commissioner of Bangladesh, Rear Admiral Abu Saeed Mohamed Abdul Awal, said Bangladeshi authorities had not approved any figures on the number of local workers to be sent to the Maldives.

By contrast, Awal claimed that Bangladeshi government was working “closely” with their Maldivian counterparts over the issue of manpower and ensuring better regulatory control for workers coming to the country. Awal also stressed that it would be vital to ensure potential loopholes in employment laws were not being exploited by employers and recruitment agencies.

“A Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) is under consideration with the Maldives government to provide better controls on immigration,” he said. “Employment must take place under proper conditions and a legal framework, this has not been happening as much in the past.”

According to Awal, although the prospect of the MOU was being seen as an encouraging development between the two nations, setting out new regulations on foreign worker numbers was an “evolving process” that needed to be implemented properly as well as come under long-term reviews and scrutiny.

“We are working closely with various departments on this,” he said. “Any regulations that may follow would need to be overseen properly or the same problems will continue. Potential loopholes have to be addressed and should not be exploited.”

Last year, Minivan News reported that the exploitation of foreign workers was believed to rival fishing as the second most profitable sector of the Maldivian economy after tourism. The claims were based on conservative estimates of the number of Bangladeshi workers showing up at their commission in Male’ after being abandoned at the airport by unscrupulous employment agents.

Former Bangladeshi High Commissioner to the Maldives, Professor Selina Mohsin, who finished her assignment in July 2010, told Minivan News that every day 40 Bangladeshi nationals were turning up at reception, “having come to the Maldives and found they have nothing to do. So naturally they come here to the High Commission.”


14 thoughts on “Expatriate “troubles” exacerbated by lack of border policy, says immigration head”

  1. Shahid is absolutely right. First you ought to have an immigration policy before you can decide how effective border control and immigration is.

    I disagree with Shahid about the Nexbis system. The Nexbis border control system is a very advanced system capable of holding biometric data. If you hold biometric data on immigrants, they can't get "lost" once inside the country. Even if they don't have any paper work, you can identify who they are based on biometrics! Shahid is talking bull shit!

    Under the current system, it's very easy for an immigrant to disappear once inside. No one can identify him without papers.

    I'm quite convinced that those who are opposing the Nexbis system and trying to stop it have vested interests in the trafficking of immigrants. I am 100% certain that these people fear they'll lose business if the Nexbis border control system is fully implemented here. President Nasheed ought to give this a very high priority as this is directly related to national security.

  2. The problem of the Nexbix system is not that it is a poor product. It is a good product but the main issue is the financial implications. The Government seemed to be ripped off here and with the connections of certain people in Immigration, and some Maldivians in Malaysia, the deal has been done.
    The deal is too expensive and too long. Shahid knows what he is talking about on this issue.
    Now since the Americans are helping the Government with a good system as an aid, I see no reason why the Government should go and pay Nexbis multi millions of dollars for something they can get free anyway.

    This is the crux of this issue.

    Even if you hold biometric data people can still "disappear". In reality the problem is not people disappearing but since there are no regulations, how do you deal with these people?
    Almost all of them come to Maldives legally and unless the Government can come up ways to fine the employers this will continue to happen.
    So an immigration policy is what is required and not some expensive piece of equipment.

  3. has minivannews removed the article on GMR? i dont see it any more!

  4. Treat people fair, we can't insist on exploiting desperate people for the sake of our "businesses". The govt needs to insist that Bangladeshi workers are treated right, minimum wages, proper accommodation and other working conditions. This is the right thing to do. This will also encourage employers to hire locals as the costs would be the same or lower.

  5. @ lukoo
    minivan news is posting an article today and removing it the next day. They have also taken off Adhaalath party threatening to leave the government if israelis land here, story also.

  6. I agree with Manik all the way, its just that there is not solid regulatory framework that's been the impasse to any form of solution. why is that corruption, vested interests in certain parties etc...

  7. Minivan will not report on certain issues. I was expecting Ahmed Nazeer to report on Adhaalat's rally. But because they gathered thousands, he will not report it.

    Minivan will also not report about tonight's rally. There are thousands in this rally too. They are calling for the resignation of the president. They also have a photoshopped 'Dracula' of the president. I wish Minivan will make it the picture of the day. 🙂

  8. shahid is wasting his time with this government...the only thing this government has left is housing and these projects require these workers. they came to power with arrogance with an elitist attitude...got distant with the people and forgot them...

  9. There is no need for further regulations or debate..the police knows where most but no all illegal bungladeshis stays ( male' is a very small place )...a lot of Maldivians sleep in small cramped rooms..so we cant afford bangladeshis better treament plus why should we sacrifice our businesses and growth to provide better accormodation and benefits to bangladeshis, most of the time very unskilled labour..Plus where on earth are illegal immigrents treated "humanly" not in EU. not in Australia and definitely not in USA, just ask any latinos...i see most of the people who comments here probably dont have any business of their own, emplying Maldivivians for simple jobs is a big heacahe..They just dont have the required work ethics..the services are expensive the way already it is and why burden it up again with better accomodation, pension, heatl , food , vocation for these very unskilled bangladeshis who are refugees in their own country most of the time...This is my own view and most of the business communities as well.

  10. Maybe we should set a figure for expatriate workers, then we can float the figure+-20%, hey we can even have an auction every week to see what effect it has on the quota? One day we may even reach true parity 350k each and at that point we can perhaps call ourselves South Bangladesh

  11. I agree with the comment of Nars here....We or any community in the world can never ever afford to treat Illegal Immigrants, Murderers or Criminals same as Legal Immigrants non-Criminals....

    As we continue doing this Very Big & Dangerous Mistake, our country is now facing all these social and economic problems that are difficult to solve.

    Taking action against a crime or violation of the country's law can never ever be an Inhuman treatment but it's an obligation for a country's leadership or relevant authorities...

    No country can afford making a country a Heaven for Murderers, Criminals or those who violate a country's law...look at Singapore or similar countries!!!! Leadership of those countries made their countries a Hell Fire for Criminals and those violating laws and regulations

    Such problems cannot be solved by simply praying for that...we have to do what we have to do and then pray...Criminals or Murderers are there not because they are not aware of what they are doing...so we don't have to conduct awareness programs for them or giving religious lectures....they would rather put a laugh if one tries to advise not doing such crimes because it's their business...Murderers or Criminals get rewards from various big-shots, businessmen, power-hungry crooks of the late Dictatorship and so on.....

  12. @looth and luckoo

    "has minivannews removed the article on GMR? i dont see it any more!"

    "minivan news is posting an article today and removing it the next day. They have also taken off Adhaalath party threatening to leave the government if israelis land here, story also."

    Check here


    and here for the Adalath story


    There is also a search option to find even older articles. I bet you two are pissed at me now, that's understandable. Get over it and learn to navigate a website.

  13. Fully agree that there needs to be a quota system for immigrants. Surely, there are already enough workers here without the need to import more. Round up all the illegals and instead of bringing in new ones, get the illegals to take on the extra jobs in the economy.


Comments are closed.