Foreign Ministry claims resolution found to Indian visa “difficulties”

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs has said recent difficulties experienced by Maldivians in trying to obtain medical visas for travel to India have been resolved through ongoing discussions between the two countries.

Late last month, Maldivian citizens wishing to apply for visas allowing them to travel to India for medical treatment were forced to queue outside the Indian High Commission in Male’, sometimes for days, as a result of tightened restrictions by Indian authorities.

Indian authorities stressed last week that tighter visa restrictions for Maldivians were  a “signal” for the country’s government to address a number of its concerns about how the nation treated migrant workers.  Among its key concerns was the practice of Maldivian employers confiscating the passports of foreign workers.

The Indian High Commission has maintained that the tightened restrictions were nonetheless in line with a bilateral agreement signed back in 1979 and its appropriation by Maldivian authorities in the intervening years.

Ibrahim Muaz Ali, Communication Director for the Minister of Foreign Affairs, told Minivan News this week that talks with the Indian High Commission were ongoing in an attempt to resolve difficulties facing people wishing to travel to India for treatment.

He confirmed that the discussions were focused in areas such as facilitating the transfer of Indian prisoners suffering from ill health.

Muaz added that the issue of tighter restrictions for medical travel had been “directly linked” to concerns raised by the Indian High Commission.  He added that although no agreements had as of this week been made on issues such as prisoner transfer, Maldivians were once again able to travel for medical care without facing significant queues.

“Before there have been lots of difficulties [with getting medical visas],” he claimed. “But we have now been given 50 to 60 ticket numbers a day [for processing the documents].”

Muaz said that with discussions ongoing, the foreign ministry has been able to start a phone service allowing applicants seeking a medical visa to India to SMS their details to a special number. Under its agreement with the High Commission, the ministry has said it can then follow up with each person using the service to facilitate medical travel.

Muaz added that in cases of serious illness, such as patients wishing to travel abroad for cancer treatment, patients were receiving fast tracked entry into India.

High Commission concerns

Asked about the efforts being undertaken to address concerns raised by the Indian High Commission – such as the transfer of prisoners – Muaz said that the Foreign Ministry had been looking at the issue.

Local media reported Thursday (January 3) that efforts were being made by Maldivian authorities “within the contours of the law” to release Indian nationals imprisoned in the Maldives in cases where they were found to have been in ill health.

Muaz added that after having been asked to facilitate such a transfer by the High Commission, no decision had yet been taken on how the request would be handled.

“What we have been asked to do at present is a very broad request [from Indian authorities],” he said. “It is an ongoing process and we are looking at the issue, but we have not yet confirmed any agreement.”

Speaking to Minivan News last week, a spokesperson for the Indian High Commission said that the issue of transferring ill prisoners was one of a number of concerns it hoped to see addressed.

“This is one of the areas [for the Maldives to address] and we have requested for either a pardon or repatriation as per an agreement signed during the visit of the Indian Prime Minister in November 2011,” the spokesperson said.

Back in October, a senior Indian diplomatic official in the Maldives expressed concern over the Maldives’ culture of confiscating passports of migrant workers arriving to the country from across South Asia – likening the practice to slavery.

The High Commission also claimed during 2012 that skilled expatriate workers from India, employed in the Maldives education sector, had continued to be “penalised” due to both government and private sector employers failing to fulfill their responsibilities.

Meanwhile, a senior Indian medical official working in the country also alleged last year that expatriate professionals were regularly facing intimidation and fraud in the country from employers and some members of the public.


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.