The movement of foreigners throughout the Maldives will be restricted, according to new rules implemented by the ministry of human resources, youth and sport.
All foreigners wishing to travel between islands from 1 February 2010 must present appropriate documents to the captain or person in charge of the vessel, the ministry revealed.
Speaking to Minivan News, Minister of Human Resources Hassan Latheef said the travel restrictions were being implemented to reduce the number of illegal expatriate workers travelling between islands.
“The problem of illegal workers in this country is huge, we have been getting many complaints from islands,” he said.
“An example is in Laamu atoll: illegal workers have become involved in agricultural business and are driving local farmers out of business.”
He acknowledged that “while we can’t deport everyone, I believe that stopping them from moving around is the first step towards solving this issue.”
From February all foreigners must carry one of three documents to be able to travel around the country: either a valid work permit, proper visa documents for visitors, or a special letter from the ministry allowing travel.
Any captain or vessel owner which transports foreigners without these documents will face legal action, the ministry said.
Asked how the community might react to such measures, Latheef said “There won’t be much difficulty in implementing these measures, because even now ships have to keep a log of all the passengers it carries. There will be no inconvenience at all, as most crews will be able to check documents very fast and efficiently.”
Asked about the impact on non-working foreigners in the country, Latheef said “All they have to do is provide a visa or document showing their purpose in the country.”
Tourists “may find this alarming,” admitted Ahmed Solih, permanent secretary of the tourism ministry.
“But if the situation is explained, they will understand,” he said.
One expatriate currently working in the country wasn’t so sure.
“As someone who travels on a daily basis does this mean I have to carry my documents with me in case they are checked? Having to carry around papers all the time feels very restrictive,” he said.
“It feels like there is a currently a bit of a witch-hunt against expatriates, with the retraction of the liquor licences and the difficulty getting work permits – is the government trying to drive out skill sets the country doesn’t have?”
Solih said the problem of illegal workers was a national issue, particularly for a relatively small community like the Maldives.
“These measures may seem dramatic but this decision has only been made after many other alternatives have failed. I am sure there will be measures in the rules to account for the tourism industry.”