Protesters outside immigration call for resignation of Controller following work permit rejections

A group of 50 protesters gathered outside the Immigration Department today demanding the resignation of Immigration Controller Abdulla Shahid, claiming that immigration staff were refusing to accept work permit documents issued by the Human Resources Ministry.

“They refused to accept documents that were issued last week, because last night the Immigration Department announced that the document’s name had changed from ‘Work Permit Document’ to “Employment Approval Document,” one protester said. “These documents they refused to accept were issued last week – when they make such an announcement all of a sudden, what can we do about it?’’ he asked.

The protesters claimed the arrival of expatriate workers would be delayed because of the name change.

“When they refused to accept these documents we cannot pay for the deposit fee, the payment receipt and the immigration approval stamp and the work permit card,” he said. “So now we will have to delay the arrival of expat workers expected to here earlier.”

The protesters also complained that only 15 queue numbers were being issued every day for work permit cards, “so only the first 15 persons who go near the Immigration Department get to apply for the work permit cards. After breaking fast, around 7:30 pm we have to go near the department and line up until it opens the next day at 9:00am,” he claimed.

An investigation into endemic human trafficking and abuse of the work permit system ordered by the government last month, and saw front line immigration and human resources ministry staff replaced by the Maldives National Defence Force (MNDF) for two weeks.

Immigration authorities have previously speculated that of the 100,000 expatriate workers in the country, up to half may have entered the country illegally. Preliminary findings from the investigation last month unearthed a web of paper companies and ministerial corruption suggesting an industry worth upwards of US$123 million.

“People have been creating fraudulent companies and using them to apply for fraudulent work permit quotas, and then diverting these quotas to keep bringing in illegal workers,” said President Nasheed’s Spokesperson, Mohamed Zuhair, at the time.

“A would-be worker [overseas] pays money and ends up here on fraudulent papers obtained by a bogus agent, from quotas at a non-existent company,” Zuhair said. “Sometimes they are expected to work for 3-4 years to make the payment – workers have told police that this is often as much as US$2000.”

Police Sub-inspector Ahmed Shiyam said that police had monitored the situation as the crowd gathered.

”No arrests have been made, but police were active in the area,” Shiyam said.

Immigration Controller Shahid was not responding to calls at time of press. Assistant Controller Ibrahim Naseer said he was unable to comment on the matter or provide an alternative contact at the department as he was on holiday.