Immigration Department dismisses reports of expat system “flaw”, won’t rule out abuse by employers

Immigration officials have dismissed reports of a “flaw” in the country’s online expatriate registration system despite expressing concerns the system may be open to abuse by registered companies.

A department spokesperson confirmed this week that although new online registration introduced to try and streamline providing work visas to foreigners was not itself flawed, the system was nonetheless open to abuse from employers who allowed others to access their password-protected accounts.

The Department of Immigration and Emigration has also confirmed it has faced challenges in verifying whether construction projects were real or a front to smuggle foreign labour into the country, but told Minivan News it expects to resolve the issue from next month.

The comments were made after local newspaper Haveeru last week reported that a “serious issue” had been identified within the expatriate registration system installed by the National Centre for Information Technology (NCIT) that had allowed a steep rise in the number of foreign workers coming to the Maldives in May 2013.

Citing an anonymous immigration source, the paper reported that 4,000 expatriate workers had entered the country last month due to certain recruitment agencies abusing a “critical flaw” in the system.  According to the report, the flaw allowed recruiters to obtain an extra quota of foreign workers in order to profit from their transfer into the Maldives.

The NCIT, which was charged with installing the component of the monitoring system, this week rejected suggestions that such a flaw existed in the program in a joint statement (Dhivehi) issued with the Department of Immigration and Emigration.

The expatriate quota system had been assigned through procedures set out by the Immigration Department to the NCIT, the statement read.

Once a quota is obtained, the NCIT stated that an expatriate would only be granted entry into the country upon providing a photograph, their passport bio page and other official documents required by immigration officials that are required to be entered into the system.

“Therefore, we can confirm that 4000 expatriates have not entered the country unknown,” the statement added.

The NCIT’s dismissal of the media report’s comes as the Maldives faces increasing pressure to tackle the issue of unregistered expatriates, with the country appearing on the US State Department’s Tier Two Watch List for Human Trafficking.  The country has appeared on the list for three years in a row.

Employer responsibility

Although claiming no technical flaw had been found by authorities within the expat system, immigration spokesperson Ibrahim Ashraf told Minivan News that registered employers had a responsibility to prevent abuse of their company accounts.

Ashraf said all companies employing foreigners had to be registered on the expatriate registration system through official documents like a business registration certificate and a valid national ID.

If approved, he said the employer was then assigned through the online account a maximum quota of foreign workers depending on the size of their business or the specific project they were working on.  These accounts are protected with a password.

Ashraf said there were suspicions in the Immigration Department that some employers may have provided access to their unique account to employees, who were in turn bringing in foreign workers under the company’s name – and while personally profiting from trafficking them into the country.

He compared the practice to a member of the public giving their ATM bank card and pin number to another individual, then trusting them not to draw money out from their account.

“People that are being trusted to use [the expat online system] may be doing wrong. I think this is what has been happening. Management maybe putting too much trust in other people to use this system,” Ashraf claimed.

“Systematic abuse”

Immigration Controller Dr Mohamed Ali has previously told Minivan News that while almost all foreign workers coming to the Maldives arrive under registered companies, some were finding themselves “illegally used” by employers due to “systematic abuse” of the visa system.

Foreign low-wage workers are often lured to the country by agents after paying a ‘recruitment’ fee or entering into debt – sometimes as high as several thousand dollars – that is shared between local agents and recruiters in the country of origin, most significantly Bangladesh.

In many cases the workers are then brought into the country ‘legitimately’ by a specially-created paper company, created using the ID of a complicit or unwitting Maldivian national, for the stated purpose of working on a ‘construction project’ of dubious existence.

Senior immigration sources confided to Minivan News in April this year that almost no human verification was undertaken by authorities to ensure workers were genuinely employed once a business or construction project was approved.

Ashraf this week confirmed that there had been “issues” in inspecting construction sites across both the country’s inhabited and resort islands due to a shortage of staff.

However, he claimed that by July 31, 2013, the Immigration Department was to begin inspecting construction and other projects requiring foreign labour with the assistance of local councils and key industry associations.

These groups are expected to include the Maldives Association of Tourism Industry (MATI) and the Maldives Association of Construction Industry (MACI), according to the Immigration Department.

Ashraf added that the government had recently approved the hiring of an additional 30 staff for the department in order to help oversee what is expected to be a comprehensive audit of the visa system.  Officials would then move to penalise any abuse of the system by local employers.

Unregistered workforce

The exact scale of the Maldives’ unregistered foreign workforce remains unknown, with estimates ranging from between around 40,000 people to potentially double that amount.

Earlier this year, former MACI President Mohamed Ali Janah said an estimated 40 percent of the foreign employees in the construction sector were thought not to be legally registered.

Considering these numbers, Janah said at the time that he could not rule out the involvement of organised crime in certain employment agencies, which supply a large amount of foreign labour to building sites in the Maldives.

Janah claimed that 95 percent of construction groups operating in the country were Maldivian owned. However, as the country’s second largest industry on a GDP basis, the vast majority of employees in the sector were migrant workers, he said.

“We employ a huge workforce of some 60,000 to 70,000 people,” he explained at the time. “Of these people, sadly we have 40,000 to 50,000 who are expatriates.

By April of this year, Immigration Controller Dr Mohamed Ali confirmed that authorities had targeted the return of 10,000 unregistered workers by the end of the 2013.

The pledge to return a predetermined number of expatriates was criticised at the time by the Human Rights Commission of Maldives (HRCM), which raised concerns that some workers were potentially being punished for the actions of employers or agents acting outside the law.

While the government earlier this year launched a special campaign intended to raising awareness of the rights of foreign workers, NGOs and independent institutions continue to identify human trafficking as a significant issue needing to be addressed in the country.

Human rights groups in the Maldives have for instance continued to criticise both the present and former governments for failing to pass legislation that would allow authorities to press charges against individuals directly for the offence of human trafficking.  The legal measures to do so are presently under review in parliament.


11 thoughts on “Immigration Department dismisses reports of expat system “flaw”, won’t rule out abuse by employers”

  1. Indian and Bangladeshi workers unfortunate enough to find themselves in Maldives.....and you have my deepest sympathy guys.....should ensure their passports are with them at all times.
    Just assume ALL Maldivian employers are crooks who live off the blood and toil of poor workers and you will be OK.
    Please report to your embassies if the odious and illegal practice of retaining the passports of foreign workers is still taking place in Maldives.
    Before you neanderthals have a go at me.....especially that ponce Kuribee.....please be advised I am fortunate not to live or work in the Maldives.
    Sent from my ipad

  2. @missindia

    advised I am fortunate not to CURRENTLY* living or working in the Maldives

    WOW OMG an IPAD? WOW!!!! OMG NO ONE ELSE HAVE EVER HEARD OF SUCH A BRILLIANT DEVICE, you must be so extremely wealthy and your taste so extravagant..
    (rolls eyes)

  3. @ LOL
    I have NEVER lived or worked in the Maldives. Why is it that anyone critical of the Maldives MUST be living or working in the Maldives?.....Holy Krishna, Maldives must be the land of opportunity with all Indians desperate to live and work there.
    Seriously moron, does my english language skill indicate that I need a crap low paid job in your country? .....doing what job? chambermaid in some 'high end' resort? housemaid to some short n fat businessman? masseuse in some dodgy backstreet spa? school teacher in some drug invested atoll?
    Yes I am a real classy upper class extremely wealthy arrogant snob.....I take that as a compliment.
    Sent from my new ipad from a classy coffee shop in Connaught Place New Delhi.

  4. @at new delhi you say? wish you all the best.. in getting home safely without being sexually assaulted by drunks with the last names of patel, krishna, ramesh

  5. @missindia NewDelhi on Fri, 21st Jun 2013 7:27 PM.

    The cast system of India still exist to date and the treatment ipad owning employers give their employees is of a class of its very own! I have seen all this!

    You being of the ipad owning class you will not dare to see a dead person on the pavement, even if it is there for 3 days! You, the ipad owning class will look at someone noticing it and taking care of it!

    Though you may know, but refuse to accept, the mere word, NAUKAR (meaning employee), comes from the abusive phrase NA KAREN (meaning to the effect of never performing) which the elite ipad owning class bestow upon their employees as much as possible when at work!
    Employees will be shown that they are non performing and worthless!
    For Tamilnadu employers, their employees will be MAADU (meaning cow, who will only know to eat, rest and chew the cud!

    Where ever in India, if someone is in employment, employers will always point out the employee's non performances. No appreciation will ever be given at will! Either the employee has to go down upon their knees or through bribery of somesor has to get any increment! These are facts!
    To the Indian employer, no employee can be doing or must be doing any good job!
    Because that is area which the rich ipad owning class can cut, rip and rob the poor employees!

    The elite ipad owning class would feed their dogs on the same floor, but never their servant!

    Many readers may not know these facts, but they are!

    It is habitual for the kettle to call the pot black!

  6. @new delhi, please look at your country's own flaws before insulting someone elses. but as expected the pot calls the kettle black

  7. @patriot

    Thank you brother/sister. nice to see that someone else is defending their country 🙂

  8. Oh dear........I seem to have upset the 'true believers' of the holy atolls.
    Don't you retards have anything better to do?
    Like rampaging through the streets of your overcrowded capital to 'save Islam'?
    Maybe destroy a few more 'non Islamic' idols from your museums?
    Even beat up some more expat teachers and doctors?
    sent from my iPad from the back street of my chauffeur driven limo-New Delhi

  9. I meant 'back seat' of my limo.......before dimwitted and dislexic lol points that out......


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