Police arrests 18 foreigners for gambling

The Maldives Police Service (MPS) has arrested 18 foreigners found gambling in Malé.

A police statement said a court warrant was obtained before the arrests were made from a house in the Maafannu ward in Malé. All of those arrested were Bangladeshi nationals.

The MPS said that large sums of money were discovered after searching the house and that the case is now being investigated by the Criminal Investigation Department.


Parliament accepts extradition bill

Parliament today (April 16) accepted a government-sponsored bill that would allow for foreign prisoners to be extradited from the Maldives to their country of origin, local media has reported.

MP Riyaz Rasheed submitted the bill, which classifies the types of criminal offences that foreigners can be extradited for, as well as regulating the procedures for international prisoner transfers in the Maldives.

The bill states that only under special circumstances – after a request from the country of origin and a permit from the Prosecutor General (PG) – can a prisoner be extradited. Extradition requests can only be considered if the prisoner is to be tried and serve out their sentence(s) in their country of origin.


175 foreigners deported in 2012: Immigration

The Department of Immigration and Emigration has revealed that 175 foreigners were deported from the country in 2012, local media reports.

Immigration Controller Mohamed Ali told local media a large proportion of foreigners were deported in relation drugs and sexual offences.

According to Sun Online, the majority of deported sexual offenders were from Thailand, while Bangladeshis committed the majority of other offences out of those deported.

“We deported 175 people by the end of last year. The majority of those were for sexual offences. Also for drug issues, financial fraud and robbery,” Ali said.

Immigration also revealed that roughly 3000 more foreigners had been deported upon their personal request.


‘Gold-digger clause’ bans Maldivian women from marrying foreigners who earn less than US$1000 pm

The Family Court has published regulations requiring that foreign men applying to marry Maldivian women must earn at least Rf15,000 (US$972) per month.

“We have been acting on this for a while. This has attracted public attention only because we announced the regulations this year,” said Ahmed Abdullah, Marriage Registrar at the Family Court.

The regulation stipulates that a foreigner has to earn at least Rf15,000 and submit written proof of his salary if he is employed by the government, or submit six months of bank account statements if he is working in the private sector.

Abdullah explained that this applies only to foreign men and not to foreign women wishing to marry locals, “as it is the man who has to support his wife.”

“It is mostly women who are victims when a mixed marriage like this goes wrong,” Abdullah said.

Maldivian men do not have to earn the minimum amount to get married: “A local man has a home or a family to turn to, whereas if you are a foreigner you have to rent a place so we have taken that into account when drafting the regulations.”

The court has heard cases in which the foreign man has walked away with the local woman’s money and jewelry, he said.

“When a man does not earn enough he will be desperate, and some men marry local women for ease of life. We had a case where a local woman came out of her shower to find her jewellery missing, and later that her Bangladeshi husband had fled the country with it.”

Abdullah says that even when marriages take place abroad between a foreign man and a local woman, it was often the woman who came in to register the marriage.

“We have cases where the woman comes in for the registration, does not have supporting documents, and when we ask the foreign man to come he does not turn up. A man can easily walk away from a marriage,” he said.

To counter this, the regulation for registering marriages abroad also states that if the marriage takes place in a country that has a Maldivian embassy, the embassy has to stamp a document stating that the marriage was conducted by a person or group that has been authorised by the host country to conduct Muslim marriages: “This way there is additional supporting document by a government authority.”

The regulations also specify that based on “certain factors” the marriage registrar can give permission for those under 18 to get married.

“This also has been practised for a while. In very rare cases we have allowed those under 18 to get married,” Abdullah said.

The marriage registrar has the authority to grant permission for those under the legal age of 18 to marry, after taking into consideration factors such as their physical and mental health, police records, and the view of the guardians or parents.

“We will get a medical doctor’s opinion on the physical health of those concerned, and we ask for police reports so that the person and parents in question can make an informed decision,” Abdullah explained.

The reason why a person under 18 wanted to get married is also taken into consideration.

“If they say they are in love, that is not necessarily a good reason to grant the marriage, as children in Grade 6 and 7 also think they are in love sometimes,” he said. “They have to be in a position to realise what marriage is.”

Abdullah would not say what a good reason was, stating only that “we will take it case by case and this is something we grant rarely.”


Amendment to open visa laws sent for further review

An amendment to the Immigration Act was sent to the National Security Committee for review with 56 votes in favour and 31 against.

The bill, presented by Hulhu-Henveiru MP Moosa ‘Reeko’ Manik, would give foreign businessmen and investors in the Maldives easy access to resident visas. The amendment bill is part of the government’s 18-bill economic reform package.

The amendment would make visas available to foreigners married to Maldivians; legal guardians of children born in marriages including a Maldivian; investors; investors involved in government material and financial development projects; and foreigners providing technical service.

An amendment to the parliamentary rules of procedure to allow foreign heads of state and dignitaries to address parliament was meanwhile passed 59-2 at today’s sitting.


New work visa regulations frustrating business

Picture-perfect hotels and superb service are synonymous with Maldives tourism.

However the country’s number one industry has always grappled with a shortage of skilled workers.

To counter this dozens of skilled foreign workers enter the Maldives each year, so the recent change in procedures and requirements for work visas has thrown the industry into disarray.

“What we didn’t need was to re-invent the wheel,” says Ibrahim ‘Sim’ Mohamed, secretary general of the Maldivian Tourism Industry (MATI).

“Every day it becomes more difficult to operate tourism related businesses because of the changes in requirements and procedures for work permits,” Sim said.

The Honorary consul of Italy, Giorgia Marazzi, echoes a similar thought.

“The procedures are long and confusing now, and even 50 year old tourism professionals are obliged to show certificates,” he says.

Problematic Procedures

Regulations surrounding work visas were recently changed. A deposit [to cover the worker’s return airfare] is paid to the Department of Immigration and Emigration, while the Ministry of Human resources issues an employment approval form. This must be translated into a work visa by the Department of Immigration.

“The sudden change, coupled with the fact that requirements are so high and stringent now, makes it difficult to comply with [the regulation] in some cases,” says Sim.

MATI members have complained about the issue in numerous meetings and forums, saying they need full time staff just to complete the paperwork and queue at the relevant ministries.

Among the problems identified is the lack of information sharing between relevant ministries.

Giorgia recounts the case of an Italian businessman who came to town and registered a company related to tourism and diving. He registered the logo and opened a bank account only to be refused a work permit.

“If you are promoting investment you have to enable a person to work legally in the country,” Giorgia said.

“Ministries should cooperate and have a comprehensive network of information and not work against each other.”

According to Mohamed Anees, HR manager of Sunhotels, “even if the deposit was paid at the HR ministry before the change in procedure, when you go to the Department of Immigration with the paper work you might be asked to pay the deposit again.”

An exasperated Sim accuses the different departments of “fighting for territory. Controller of Immigration Ilyas Hussain begs to differ.

‘It’s a misunderstanding on their part to think like that. There is no turf war, and we just give out work visas once the employment approval form is given by the HR ministry, and then people can work here legally.”

He adds the rise in deposit money is also to provide a few days’ accommodation in case a person has to be sent back.

“As immigration controller we need some sort of guarantee, and we need to see certificates to issue work visas. We deal with the money now, while HR deals with administrative issues.”

He says tourism industry should instead worry about paying bed taxes and other money owed to the government on time.

The need to show educational and trade certificates is a particularly contentious issue.

“It has to be attested, but lawyers and consulates attest it without even verifying the origin [of the certificates],” says Giorgia.

Anees agrees that the procedures are difficult and a necessary evil: “We bring foreigners as we can’t find skilled people here, so it makes sense to ask for certificates, and sometimes they reject the papers saying they’re not up to the mark.”

But he finds the amount taken as deposit money too high.

“It should be at maximum the amount of a return ticket to the country of origin, but now they are asking for much more.”

Anees also has problems with the HR ministry’s quota system for hiring foreign employees. At present the HR ministry dictates how many foreign workers a particular company can hire. The ministry also decides which jobs foreign employees can hold and the number of foreigners who can be employed in a particular job category.

“Sometimes we have to change job positions as per requirements, and then we are obliged to go through the whole process of advertising and all that.”

Instead, he reasons, a quota should be given and left up to the resort to fill as required.

Both Giorgia and Anees also feel that scrapping the requirement of a police report is a mistake: “You don’t know what shady people might turn up in the Maldives then.”

Shortage of skilled personnel

At the heart of the matter is a lack of skilled Maldivians.

“It is costly to bring in foreigners, but to train Maldivians takes money and man-hours, so some opt for the faster and easier option,” reasons Sim.

A businessman, who asked not to be named, working in the tourism sector says, he advertised for 20 job positions recently ranging from laborers to manager positions and got only one applicant, who was a foreigner: “in the Maldives there is no unemployment – it’s all voluntary [unemployment].”

According to statistics from the tourism industry, out of the 54 resorts in the study 27 were unable to attain the 50% Maldivian staff requirement. It was interesting to note that its was mostly resorts with foreign management that had the highest number of Maldivian employees.

“It is a colossal failure on the part of past and present governments that they hadn’t addressed this human resource issue,” Sim says.

He points out that Maldives gets more arrivals, there are more resorts opening up and resorts are of a higher standard, “yet the country lacks manpower.”

Societal attitudes also play a role: only white collar jobs are sought after by Maldivians.

“We have failed to imbibe in our youth the notion that work is dignified no matter what you do,” says Sim.

The education system is also not geared towards producing people for the main industries of Maldives, like tourism, fishing and construction, he complains.

The policy of running vocational training parallel to the education system the last 12 years has not paid off, he says, and every now and then parliamentarians whip up the issue to garner publicity and sympathy instead of working towards finding a permanent solution to the problem.

“We expected the new ministers to be more open and liberal minded, and instead things have gotten worse,” Sim says.

Deputy HR minister Hussain Ismail agrees procedures are now more restrictive.

“Before it was as businessmen wanted,” he says, adding enough forewarning was given before the implementation of new procedures.

“The different departments do share information, but of course there are hitches which we are trying to smooth out.”

As for the problem of certificates, Hussain says the ministry is now even accepting trade certificates.

“If a person does not have educational qualifications, he should be able to produce a trade one from wherever he has worked. After all he is being hired for his skills.”

The lack of skilled Maldivians doesn’t wash with him, and he takes as an example the case of a seaplane company.

“The company advertises for pilots, and in addition to the pilot license they also ask for four credit passes in London ‘O’ levels.”

He says despite the fact that there are now lots of Maldivian pilots, they are not hired due to the criteria of having specific number of ‘O’ level passes.

“If companies are willing to train foreigners why not train Maldivians?” he asks.

Hussain says the authorities will not ease work visa requirements just to make it easy for business.

“We have to look into social issues also and take them into consideration,” he argues.

However tightening the work visa procedures without solving the underlying issues might make “the tourism industry grind to a halt very soon,” Sim warns.