Audit flags deficiencies in control of expatriate workers

An audit of the immigration department has identified deficiencies in the issuance of quotas and work permits as well as monitoring and enforcement measures.

The performance audit examined the “control of expatriate workers” in the Maldives after November 2012 and found that 68 percent of sampled quotas were issued against specified criteria.

The quota limits the number of expatriates that can be employed by a local business and is calculated based on the type of work. It is generated using an automatic formula in the ‘Xpat online system.’

“We observed the number of quota generated by the system through the use of the formula was more than were requested by the employers,” reads the audit report made public on Monday.

“Hence, the use of the formula resulted in issuing more quotas than was required. Such instances indicate that the [immigration department] did not consider the economic needs when quotas were issued.”

The audit also found that the department had not inspected all worksites before issuing quotas.

“This resulted in incorrect issuing of quotas; a police investigation report revealed issuance of quotas in respect of nineteen worksites that did not exist,” the report stated.

Of a sample of 40 quotas and employment approvals, 27 quotas and 13 approvals were issued when criteria were not met.

According to the 2014 census, there are 58,683 expatriates residing in the Maldives. However, the department of national planning has said the figure was much lower than numbers recorded by the immigration department.

NGO Transparency Maldives (TM) estimates there are 200,000 migrant workers in the Maldives – two-thirds of the country’s population.

A government report in 2011 revealed human trafficking to be the Maldives’ second most lucrative industry after tourism – worth an estimated US$123 million a year.

The Maldives ratified an Anti-Trafficking Act in December 2013, but TM says implementation, monitoring and enforcement of laws and regulations are crucial to prevent human trafficking.

Monitoring and enforcement

The department has not conducted research to determine the number of skilled and unskilled immigrant workers needed in the Maldives, the report observed, while the absence of a “sound policy framework” has resulted in a rapid increase in migrant workers.

Tackling illegal migration has since become “one of the main objectives of the department.”

The report noted that the absence of effective enforcement measures prior to 2014, after which the department “started conducting frequent investigations and they have strengthened their enforcement measures such as levying a fine on employers violating the regulations.”

“However, the [department] made slow progress in areas such as improving efficiency, staff capability quality of data and maintenance of complete data on the Xpat Online System,” it added.

The department began using the system in November 2012, but accurate information prior to then is not available as “migration of data from the labour ministry system…was not performed in a planned and systematic manner.”

“However, between 26 November 2012 and 31 December 2013 there were 9,914 expired work permits that were neither renewed nor cancelled,” it added.

As of September 2014, the department was owed MVR27.3 million in unpaid visa fees. However, apart from blacklisting the employers, the department “has not used its powers such as fining or holding passport of the employers.”

While the department implemented the US-donated PISCES border control system in August 2013, the audit observed “difficulties with entering and editing data”.

The system is not integrated with the Xpat online system, “which is hindering the achievement of the [department’s] objective in minimising illegal immigration.”

The department also failed to maintain data on workers who left under the government’s ‘Voluntary Departure Programme.’ The actual number of workers that departed under the programme is unknown.

The accuracy of the Xpat system cannot be ensured either, the report continued, as it cannot be used to trace workers who have left.

Information in travel documents “does not necessarily match with the information recorded in the system.”

“The employment approval of those leaving the country using a travel document would not be cancelled from the system,” the report noted.

Additionally, the department has not handled complaints “in a systematic manner.” The audit found that some complaints had not been attended to for over a year.


The auditor general’s office recommended that the department follow its standard operating procedures in issuing quotas and permits, conduct thorough checks at all stages, and take action against employers with unpaid work visa fees.

The audit also advised formulation of a framework on the number expatriate workers needed in the country.

The department should also “create a culture of serving the public,” evaluate staff capacity and workload, and recruit more staff where necessary.

A survey conducted during the audit revealed that a significant number of employers were not satisfied with the department’s services.

The department should also ensure that deposits collected from employers should only be used to deport workers. The audit office also advised revising deposit rates “at regular intervals to reflect the costs likely to be incurred.”


Almost 8,000 undocumented workers deported, says defence minister

The department of immigration has deported or repatriated 7,962 undocumented foreign workers so far this year under a voluntary departure programme, Minister of Defence Colonel (Retired) Mohamed Nazim has revealed.

Speaking at a press conference yesterday, Nazim claimed that the benefit of the deportations to the domestic economy was worth US$24 million a year.

“122 companies and private parties have been fined for hiring foreigners illegally and they have been prohibited from bringing in further [foreign workers],” he added.

Additionally, 21 places were raided in an operation to deport illegal migrant workers, he continued, which took place in Addu City, Laamu Atoll, Kaafu Atoll, and Alif Alif Atoll.

A fine of MVR50,000 (US$3,242) is specified in the law for hiring illegal migrant workers and deported foreigners are not allowed to return to the Maldives for ten years.

The immigration department deported 6,400 undocumented workers between January and July this year.

On April 24, Nazim announced a special operation to deport undocumented workers, promising that “the whole of Malé will be cleaned [of migrant workers]” within three weeks.

In December 2012, former President Dr Mohamed Waheed transferred the immigration department from the Ministry of Home Affairs to the Ministry of Defence and National Security.

Of the 7,962 deported workers, Nazim noted that 6,590 voluntarily requested repatriation, 69 left due to poor health, and 890 were deported for violations of the law.

A further 407 workers were deported due to various problems, he added.

Census results and human trafficking

Asked if the preliminary results of the national census conducted in September – which found the expatriate population to be 58,683 – were accurate, Nazim said the figure did not match the government’s official records.

Nazim suggested that census takers were unable to gather accurate information due to either lack of cooperation from expatriates or failure to locate foreign workers.

“Looking at our total statistics, our records show that there are 120,000 foreigners,” he revealed, adding that the estimate for illegal or undocumented workers was 30,000.

Some members of the public were hiding undocumented workers, he continued, urging the public to work with the government to tackle the issue.

In a recent visit to Raa atoll, Nazim said island councils in three islands informed him that there were about 150 undocumented workers hidden from the authorities by their employees.

“So this can be done if councils, islanders, and the government work together to deport foreigners,” he said.

Nazim also revealed that MVR181 million (US$11 million) had been collected as work visa fees by the end of October, MVR198 million (US$12.8 million ) as security deposits, and MVR30 million (US$1.9 million) was given out for deposit refunds.

A secondary passport verification system was meanwhile established at the Ibrahim Nasir International Airport (INIA) and the foreign employment section of the immigration system with the help of the International Organisation for Migration.

In addition to the repatriated or deported foreign workers, Nazim said 1,172 individuals were denied entry to the country – including 82 individuals with invalid passports, 503 individuals without employment approval, and 582 individuals turned away for other reasons.

While 3,102 individuals were granted business visas, Nazim said 770 individuals were granted special visas.

A MoU has been signed between the immigration department and National Centre for Information Technology (NCIT) to strengthen the expatriate online system.

Nazim also said efforts were underway to locate expatriates involved in human trafficking who were based in the capital Malé, including Indians, Sri Lankans, and Bangladeshis.

However, attempts to use the Maldives as a transit point or “gateway” for human trafficking – including sending foreign fighters to Syria – have proven unsuccessful due to the new passport verification system, he said.

“However, individuals traveling to the Maldives on fake or fraud visas were stopped and sent back,” he said.

In four cases of human trafficking investigated this year, Nazim said five victims were identified and 77 staff were trained to investigate such cases.

In June this year, the Maldives was removed the US State Department Tier 2 watch list for human trafficking and avoided relegation to Tier 3 along with the accompanying sanctions.

The 2014 Trafficking in Persons (TIP) report noted that an unknown number of the approximately 200,000 expatriate workers in the country experienced forced labour.

Among the advice given in the report was the development of guidelines for public officials to “proactively identify” victims, noting that thousands of migrants have been deported recently without adequate screening for indications of trafficking.


Government to raise fees for issuing passports

The department of immigration has decided to hike fees for issuing new passports from November onward.

In a statement yesterday, the immigration department said the fee for issuing an ordinary 32-page electronic passport would be raised from MVR450 (US$29) to MVR1,000 (US$65).

While the fee for an ordinary 64-page electronic passport would be raised from MVR650 (US$42) to MVR1,500 (US$97), the fee for a non-electronic passport would be raised from MVR300 (US$19) to MVR600 (US$39).

The fees were hiked in response to a sharp increase in the cost of printing, processing and handling passports, the immigration department said.

The department revealed that more than 1,000 passports are lost and needed to be replaced every year.

The fee for replacing lost or damaged passports has also been raised. The fees were last raised in 2007.


IOM conducts human trafficking workshop for police and immigration officials

International Organization for Migration has commenced a Human Trafficking training workshop for Police and Immigration officials.

The four-day workshop participants will be informed on internatinal best practice on conducting investigations and dealing with victim of human trafficking. The workshop will cover both labor and sex trafficking.

Assistant Controller of Immigration Ali Ashraf informed Minivan News last week that the training would help prepare immigration officials for the recently ratified anti-trafficking bill.

Those found guilty of human trafficking can now face up to 10 years for cases involving adults, which can be extended to up to 15 if children are involved. Accomplices to trafficking can also now receive a seven year sentence.

“Implementation of the bill will require a lot of effort and coordination,” said Ashraf.

The Maldives’ has remained on the US State Department’s Tier 2 watchlist for four years, being warned this year that only significant improvements in this area could save it from relegation to Tier 3 and potential sanctions.

A government-ordered report in 2011 revealed human trafficking to be the Maldives second most lucrative industry after tourism – worth an estimated US$123million a year.


High Court overturns lower court ruling on Nexbis deal

The High Court on Thursday (April 18) overturned a Civil Court ruling declaring the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) could not terminate a border control system (BSC) agreement signed by the Department of Immigration with Malaysian mobile security firm Nexbis.

The latest High Court ruling (Dhivehi) clears the way for the Civil Court to hear the case filed by the ACC should it be resubmitted.

The Civil Court had ruled last year that it could not hear the case filed by the commission after previously declaring that the ACC did not have legal authority to terminate the contract signed with Nexbis in November 2010.

The ACC appealed the ruling at the High Court on February 27, 2012.

In December 2011, the ACC submitted corruption cases to the Prosecutor General’s Office (AGO) against former Immigration Controller Ilyas Hussain Ibrahim and Director General of the Finance Ministry, Saamee Ageel, claiming the pair abused their authority for undue financial gain in awarding Nexbis the MVR 500 million (US$39 million) BSC project.

Ex-controller Ilyas – brother-in-law of President Dr Mohamed Waheed and current state minister of defence and national security – pleaded not guilty to the charges at the first hearing of the trial on April 10 this year.

While the High Court had overturned the previous Civil Court ruling that held the ACC did not have legal authority to terminate a contract, the High Court ruling was itself appealed at the Supreme Court, which has yet to issue a judgment on the case.

Meanwhile, on December 25, 2012, parliament voted unanimously to instruct the government to terminate the BSC agreement with Nexbis.

All 74 MPs in attendance voted in favour of a Finance Committee recommendation following a probe into the potential financial burden on the state as a result of the deal.

In September 2012, the ACC informed the committee that the deal would cost the Maldives MVR 2.5 billion (US$162 million) in potential lost revenue over the lifetime of the contract.

The Finance Committee meanwhile found that the government had agreed to waive taxes for Nexbis despite the executive lacking legal authority for tax exemption.

Following the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with the US government in March this year to provide a border control system to the Maldives, representatives from Nexbis told Minivan News that the company was uncertain what the MOU would mean for the group’s own border control technology.  The technology has been in use at Ibrahim Nasir International Airport (INIA) since September 2012.

“We do remain confident that the Maldivian government will honour its obligations under the 2010 concession agreement,” read a statement from lawyers representing the company.

“We are confident also of the support we have received by the Immigration Department in implementing and fully operating the system, but remain cautious of individuals that continue to pose obstacles to prevent the success of this project is stemming the national security issues faced by the Maldives today.”


Former President Nasheed reaches Copenhagen climate talks despite alleged obstruction

Former President Mohamed Nasheed was temporarily obstructed from traveling overseas yesterday (April 14) despite having High Court approval, the opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) has alleged.  Nasheed’s office has said this is the fourth time over the last 12 months that he has faced restrictions on his travel.

The High Court had granted Nasheed permission to travel abroad yesterday, while Maldivian authorities were informed of his planned departure to Copenhagen, Denmark, at 7:30pm in the evening, MDP MP and Spokesperson Hamid Abdul Ghafoor claimed today.

However, an hour before Nasheed’s scheduled departure – after he had arrived at Ibrahim Nasir International Airport (INIA) in Male’ –  his office said they were informed Nasheed could not leave the country.

The Department of Immigration and Emigration were then accused of preventing Nasheed from leaving the Maldives, claiming the High Court had not granted him permission to travel overseas before April 15.

After Nasheed’s flight departed, the Immigration Department then granted their official permission, Ghafoor said.

Nasheed then rescheduled his flight and departed the Maldives for Copenhagen at 11:40pm on April 14.

Ghafoor added that this was the fourth instance where Nasheed has been obstructed from traveling abroad on a scheduled international visit under the present government.

He explained that “everything was scheduled properly and there was no controversy from the High Court,” instead the issue lies with the Immigration Department.

“The Immigration Department will not stop trying to find any little administrative mistakes – and when they can’t, they invent something. They will most likely quote an administrative error on the part of Nasheed’s staff,” said Ghafoor.

“President Nasheed has not been shown the courtesy a former head of state deserves,” he added.

Nasheed’s spokesperson, Mariya Didi echoed these sentiments stating: “As a former President, it deeply concerning that the Maldivian authorities continue to withhold the constitutionally stipulated privileges accorded to President Nasheed.”

When asked about Nasheed’s travel arrangements, Immigration Controller Dr Mohamed Ali told Minivan News today to “ask the MDP about it,” adding he would not comment on any instance of the former president being obstructed from traveling overseas.

Climate change, economics, and democracy

While in Denmark, Nasheed has been invited to speak at the University of Copenhagen on the economics of climate change.

His office has said he will speak on outlining the dangers posed to the Maldives by climate change, and explain how the world can build a carbon neutral global economy by focusing on the opportunities provided by clean technology.

The investments for producing sustainable energy in the Maldives are now viable, Nasheed told local media prior to his departure yesterday.

Ghafoor said that Nasheed plans to speak at the Danish Parliament and meet with ministers during this “rushed but comprehensive trip”.

“He’s not a green man per se, but rather supports economics of the green movement,” he added.

Nasheed told local media that his parliamentary speech will highlight how the Maldives has deviated from democratic principles and the efforts necessary to put the country “back on track to democratic governance”.

Nasheed is scheduled to return April 18.

Previous travel bans

Earlier this year,the Hulhumale’ Magistrate Court denied former Nasheed’s request to travel abroad for a family wedding from March 27 to March 31.

Meanwhile, Nasheed’s request to travel overseas between February 27 to March 5 was denied by the Hulhumale’ Magistrate Court because “he had not cooperated with the court on previous instances”. The trip had been scheduled after Nasheed received an invitation from the Commonwealth Secretary General Kamalesh Sharma, and to Denmark under an invitation from the state.

Nasheed was also prevented from leaving the country December 21, 2012 to visit his ill father in Bangkok, Thailand due to a “technical problem,” the Department of Immigration and Emigration has claimed.

Earlier in 2012, the Hulhumale’ Magistrate Court imposed an internal travel ban “confining Nasheed Male’,” which he said will hinder his political campaigning and wider party work.

Copenhagen climate justice advocacy

Nasheed galvanised thousands of environmentalists at a rally in Copenhagen December 2009, vowing to persevere until a politically binding climate change treaty was attained.

The Danish Prime Minister called Nasheed “the real hero of Copenhagen” following a marathon 30 hour negotiation session to reach an agreement during the 2009 UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) talks.

The agreed-upon accord recognises that global temperatures should rise no higher than two degrees Celcius above pre-industrial levels, but does not commit developed countries to legally-binding emission reduction targets.

Current carbon-neutral commitments

The current government of President Mohamed Waheed Hassan Manik has said it is committed to pursuing carbon neutral ambitions, despite last year’s political tensions reportedly affecting investment potential for such schemes.

Environment Minister Dr Mariyam Shakeela said last year that some of the programs presently being undertaken by her ministry had started seven years previously – before Former President Mohamed Nasheed came to power – and were being adhered to on the grounds they would benefit the nation.

“We are continuing with the carbon neutrality program,” she said at the time. “ We are giving it our best shot.”

Since early 2012, the Maldivian government has overseen the initial stages of a few new renewable energy projects to achieve this goal.

The Maldives’ State Electric Company Limited (STELCO) announced in March 2013 plans to implement a 50 megawatt floating solar panel project to power the country’s capital Male’ and provide renewable energy for 28 islands with rooftop installations.

The Ministry of Environment in conjunction with the Ministry of Finance issued a prequalification application in January 2013 for the “Solar Maldives Programme.” The project aims to “design, build, finance, own, operate and transfer grid-tied solar photovoltaic systems for integration with diesel generators on 15 islands” in the south, north, and upper north provinces.

The government has also received bids to install a 300 kW grid connected solar PV system on Thinadhoo Island, the regional capital of Gaaf Dhaal (Huvadhoo) Atoll. This is part of the “Clean Energy for Climate Mitigation (CECM) Project” financed by the Climate Change Trust Fund (CCTF) – a collaboration between the Maldivian government, World Bank, European Union (EU) and the Australian Agency for International Development (AusAID).

“The system is expected to meet 30 percent of the peak day time demand of electricity and will offset approximately 300 tons of carbon dioxide annually,” the Ministry of Environment previously claimed.

The Waheed administration has also announced its intention to move ahead with plans to transform the Maldives into a biosphere reserve through the designation of zones across the country that would earmark land use for specific purposes such as tourism development or conservation.


Human Resource Ministry owed more than MVR 350 million in unpaid work permit fees, student loan repayments

The Ministry of Human Resources, Youth and Sports failed to collect MVR 168.4 million (US$10.9 million) in expatriate work permit fees for the past three years and MVR 191 million (US$12.3 million) in repayments for student loans, the ministry’s audit report for 2011 has revealed.

The audit report (Dhivehi) made public on Monday stated that information from the past three years on expatriate work visas showed that the year-on-year increase in foreign workers arriving in the Maldives was “alarming.”

“Records from the Department of Immigration and Emigration show that from July 1, 2009 to June 30, 2011 the state did not receive MVR 168,414,000 (US$10.9 million) owed as work permit fees,” the audit report revealed.

Records showed that the number of foreign workers living in the Maldives without paying work permit fees in 2009 was 16,934.

The figure increased to 27,793 in 2010 and 39,756 in 2011.

While the expatriate workforce in the Maldives as of December 2009 was 57,968 registered workers, the figure had risen to 99,369 by September 2011.

Of the total number of foreign workers, 55 percent or 54,653 expatriates were from Bangladesh and “69 percent of these, or 37,710 people, are working in the country illegally.”

Of the remaining 44,716 from other nations, 18 percent or 8,048 were illegal workers.

“Therefore, records show that the total number of foreigners working in the Maldives illegally is 45,758 (46 percent of foreign workers),” the report revealed.

Student loan repayments

The student loan repayments were meanwhile owed for two loan schemes launched respectively in 2000 and 2005.

As of December 31, 2011, the report found that the ministry failed to collect 154.6 million (US$10 million) as repayments for a long-term student loan programme launched in 2005 from a national higher education fund.

Of MVR 155.6 million (US$10 million) released between 2005 and 2011, the audit discovered that only MVR 904,872.28 (US$58,681) was repaid.

“Students who went for higher education under the scheme have not been repaying the loans because the department of higher education had not sent repayment schedules with details of the total amounts owed,” the report found.

If “adequate efforts” had been undertaken to collect payments, the Auditor General’s Office noted that “a revolving fund could have been established to provide higher education opportunities without additional expenditure from the state budget.”

Meanwhile in 2000, the report explained, the ministry launched a programme with World Bank loan assistance titled the “third education project” and issued MVR 250 million (US$16.2 million) under the scheme, with a specified portion to be paid back to the ministry.

“While it was determined that 15 percent from government employees participating in the scheme and 50 percent from participants from private companies would be collected, we note that repayments have not been sought from anyone,” the report stated.

“And as a result of the ministry not properly maintaining records of how the money was spent on students under the scheme, we note that details of how funds were released for individual students are not available and no one was sent repayment schedules.”

The report observed that MVR 37.5 million (US$2.4 million) estimated as repayments owed under the scheme has not been collected due to the “carelessness, incompetence and negligence of those in charge of the ministry’s relevant department”.

In February 2012, the report noted, the department of higher education and its staff at the Human Resource Ministry were transferred under the Ministry of Education.

Violations of Public Finance Act

The Auditor General’s Office stated that it did not believe expenditure out of the ministry’s budget was “mainly” in accordance with the Public Finance Act and “to the extent specified in the budget, on matters determined in the budget and in ways that would achieve the objectives of the ministry’s budget for 2011.”

In addition to the ministry failing to collect student loan repayments and unpaid work permit fees, the audit report noted a number of instances that were ostensibly in violation of the Public Finance Act and regulations under the law.

The audit discovered that seven political appointees were paid salaries and allowances in 2010 with no records of attendance.

The responsibilities of the seven senior officials who did not sign attendance sheets were unclear, the report noted.

Moreover, the audit found that a state minister was paid MVR 165,897.93 (US$10,758) as salary from February 13, 2012 to May 2012 despite not attending the office during the period.

While the state minister had submitted a written request for a holiday on February 13 before flying abroad, the report noted that the ministry had not made official arrangements for the leave of absence.

On February 7, 2012, former President Mohamed Nasheed resigned under controversial circumstances following a police mutiny at the Republic Square.

“[The state minister] was removed from the post by the President’s Office on July 22, 2012,” the report noted.

In another case, the audit discovered that MVR 865,500.70 (US$56,128) was deposited for seven students studying in Malaysia under the office’s staff development scheme, in excess of the official approved stipend.

In place of RM11,760 (Malaysian Ringgits) as six month’s stipend for each student, a sheet sent to the bank from the ministry mistakenly stated US$11,760, the report found.

While the ministry’s staff studying in Malaysia received an additional MVR 123,642.96 (US$8,018) each, the report noted that no attempt had been made to recover the excess amounts.

The audit report blamed the “failure of the employees to carry out their responsibilities” in preparing, checking and authorising the sheet sent to the bank.

The ministry meanwhile incurred MVR 133,938 (US$8,686) as fines for late payment of water and electricity bills in 2011, but no employees were held responsible and the loss to the state was not recovered.

The report also found that a total of MVR 420,000 (US$27,237) was paid as allowances in 2011 – at a rate of MVR 2,500 (US$162) a month – for 15 members of the National Sports Council under the ministry, without official approval from the government.

The report noted that the council held only seven meetings in 2011, each lasting for about an hour and with half the council’s membership in attendance.

Meanwhile, as a result of failing to properly maintain stock inventories, equipment purchased by the ministry was not registered and five laptops and 15 printers were lost.

The audit also discovered that the ministry provided MVR 200,000 (US$12,970) to the Shaviyani Milandhoo island council in June 2011 to set up a net around the island’s football stadium.

The funds were not approved in the 2011 budget but were released based on a pledge by the President to the islanders, the report stated, noting that such expenditure was “in breach of budgetary rules.”

Cancelled beach games

The audit report revealed that the ministry spent MVR 1.28 million (US$84,306) for “a first-ever beach and water sports tournament in South Asia” that never took place.

In February 2011, event organisers told Minivan News that the “Maldives Beach Games 2011” would bring hundreds of athletes from around the world to compete in 10 sporting events.

The international games were launched in February with a laser show and an appearance from renowned Sri Lankan cricketer Sanath Jayasuriya at a ceremony in Male’s Kulhivaru Ekuveni Indoor Hall.

The audit report meanwhile noted that the reasons for the eventual cancellation could not be discerned from the official documents.

The expenditure – made through the Maldives Olympic Committee – included over MVR 542,000 (US$35,149) on advertising and MVR 103,450 (US$6,708) on “a mascot and theme song for launching the beach games.”

Equipment, furniture and other items purchased for the cancelled games cost MVR139,545 (US$9,050).

Of the ultimately wasteful expenditure, the report noted that MVR 843,571 (US$54,706) was spent in violation of the Public Finance Act and regulations as estimates were only sought from one party.

A member of the sports council created by the ministry was meanwhile paid MVR50,000 (US$3,242) – without a public bidding process – to transfer sand from a soccer pitch made for the games to the artificial beach, the report found.

The Olympic Committee spent MVR 117,000 (US$7,588) to prepare the soccer pitch in the vacant plot in front of Villa College.

Moreover, a deputy minister and the sports council member travelled to Bangalore at a cost of MVR57,825 (US$3,750) purportedly in relation to the games, but the purpose of the trip was unclear as an official report was not prepared.


Indian High Commission slams Education Ministry over stranded expatriate teachers

The Indian High Commission in the Maldives has claimed skilled expatriate workers such as teachers employed in Maldives continue to be “penalised” due to government and private sector employers failing to fulfil their responsibilities.

First Secretary of the Indian High Commission in the Maldives S. C. Agarwal has said he continues this week to receive complaints from expatriate teachers unable to return home as a result of education authorities failing to reissue visa documentation.

The Department of Immigration and Emigration, whilst under former controller Ilyas Hussain Ibrahim, claimed last week that a solution had been reached to allow the state-employed Indian teachers affected by the visa renewal issue to return home.  A spokesperson for the immigration body added that the issues regarding the teachers’ out of date visas were the result of an “administrative problem” that had now been resolved.

However, First Secretary Agarwal maintains that teachers from India continue to be penalised under the present system for no fault of their own.

More than 30 teachers during the last week were said to have been unable to reclaim their passports from authorities after their visas were found to not have been renewed.

According to the Indian High Commission, the teachers, who are said to work at various public schools across the country, had effectively been left stranded in the Maldives after they were not permitted to leave the country.

In some cases, teachers are believed to have only discovered their visa documents had not been renewed by their employers after reaching Male’ to return home temporarily.

Agarwal said that although some teachers had returned to India on an emergency basis, others were still waiting on authorities to regularise their visas before being allowed to leave the country.

“Two teachers came to see me this morning after being in Male’ for more than a week now. They were told that they will not be able to leave at least before Tuesday until their visas are renewed. They have spent about Rf5,000 to stay here in Male,’” he said.

“I will not consider this issue resolved until all expatriates, whether from India or elsewhere, have their visas renewed or are sent home. Either expatriates are provided with the documentation they are promised by the government or their employers, or they should be sent home. There is no third option.”

Agarwal stressed that many of the teachers, whose passports are routinely taken from them by the Ministry, were being punished for mistakes made by the Ministry of Education, as well as immigration officials.

“My problem is we are getting teachers coming to us who have been stranded here in Male’ unable to return home. In many cases they are trying to return for emergency reasons and are unable to do so,” he said. “It is the responsibility of the employer – in this case the government – to ensure work visas are renewed on time.”

Agarwal said that he was concerned that a much larger number of teachers from India could have been affected by the visa renewal issue beyond the 30 cases brought to the attention of the high commission.

“I believe most of the workers affected will have gone to the Ministry of Education or the Immigration Department first to try and resolve the issue. The most desperate people will have come to us directly for assistance,” he said.

Complaints from the Indian High Commission about poor treatment of their nationals echo those made by the Bangladeshi High Commission on May 9.

Earlier this month, High Commissioner of Bangladesh, Rear Admiral Abu Saeed Mohamed Abdul Awal claimed workers were being brought to the Maldives to perform unskilled work, and often suffered from the practices of ”bad employers”.

“This is a real problem that is happening here, there have been many raids over the last year on unskilled [expatriate] workers who are suffering because of the companies employing them. They are not being given proper salaries and are paying the price for some of these employers,” he said at the time.

In line with concerns raised by counterparts within the High Commission of Bangladesh, Agarwal claimed that the Indian High Commission had also been speaking out about private sector employers who have left their foreign workers “in the lurch”.

“We have been made aware of cases where Indian workers are not being provided with the visas they are promised or, in some cases, even their salaries.  My concerns today for these teachers is that they are trained professionals working in the government sector,” he said. “These workers are  following the legal procedures here, but they are being penalised for it. There is even more concern for teachers based out in the islands, who may not know what is going on. The police will still be entitled to arrest them as illegal immigrants.”

Immigration solution

Former Controller of Immigration and Emigration Ilyas Hussain Ibrahim told Minivan News on Thursday – prior to his replacement by Dr Mohamed Ali – that the visa issues affecting the Indian teachers had been resolved.

“Now they can fly, but when they return they have to complete their visa document. I issued an order to our chief in that section to handle this as soon as possible,” he said at the time.

A spokesperson overseeing the visa issue for the Department of Immigration said that the difficulties in returning the Indian teachers home had been the result of an “administrative problem” that had since been solved.

“The problem had been that their visas had not been regularised by the Ministry of Education,” he said.  The spokesperson claimed that the problems in regularising the teachers’ visas had been solved by allowing the workers to renew their documentation once they returned to the Maldives for work.

Deputy Education Minister Anthu Ali  forwarded Minivan News to State Minister of Education Imad Solih. Solih was not responding to calls from Minivan News at  time of press.

Regional concerns

Last month Indian High Commissioner Dynaneshwar Mulay raised concerns over the treatment of expatriates from across the South Asia region – particularly by the country’s police and judiciary.

Mulay claimed that alongside concerns about the treatment of some Indian expatriates in relation to the law, there were significant issues relating to “basic human rights” that needed to be addressed concerning expatriates from countries including Sri Lanka and Bangladesh.

Mulay’s comments were made following an alleged attack on a Indian resort worker, who was reported to have been struck with a hammer and mugged while staying in a hotel in Male’. The attack was allegedly committed by a former employee of the same resort.

Big business

Beyond concerns about the basic human rights of foreign employees in the country, labour trafficking is also represents a significant national economic issue.

An ongoing police investigation into labour trafficking in the Maldives last year uncovered an industry worth an estimated US$123 million, eclipsing fishing (US$46 million in 2007) as the second greatest contributor of foreign currency to the Maldivian economy after tourism.

The authorities’ findings echo concerns first raised by former Bangladeshi High Commissioner Dr Selina Muhsin, reported by Minivan News in August 2010. The comments by Mushin were made shortly after the country was placed on the US State Department’s Tier 2 watchlist for human trafficking.


Immigration Ministry rethinks expatriate insurance amendments

Plans to begin requiring expatriate workers in the Maldives to enrol in medical insurance schemes from the beginning of the year have been delayed the Department of Immigration and Emigration, Haveeru has reported.

According to the paper, foreign workers already within the Maldives will also no longer be required to hold medical insurance by March 2011, due to a number of “requests”.

However, Immigration Controller Ilyas Hussein Ibrahim was quoted as saying that workers wishing to apply for work visas on a first time basis will be required to obtain insurance.  Ibrahim reportedly said that policies for determining whether suitable insurance policies were in place had not been decided upon.

“Because of the announcement, many people have begun insuring. It is something that must be done in the future. But right now only the new foreign workers are required to insure,” he told Haveeru.