More than 124,000 migrant workers in the Maldives

The migrant worker population of the Maldives exceeds 124,000, the department of immigration has revealed. The figure includes 94,492 registered expatriates and more than 30,000 undocumented workers.

Controller of immigration Mohamed Anwar told the press on Monday that the department’s main focus at present is strengthening the labour migration system.

The department signed Memoranda of Understanding with four companies this week for deporting undocumented workers.

Under the “shared responsibility” programme, Amin Construction, Ensis Fisheries, Hotels and Resorts Construction, and the China Machinery Engineering Corporation agreed to hire undocumented workers for projects, after which they would be deported.

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 US state department said foreign workers in the Maldives experience forced labor, including fraudulent recruitment, confiscation of identity and travel documents, withholding or nonpayment of wages, and debt bondage.

The government last month launched a five year strategic action plan to prevent human trafficking in Maldives, but the ministry of economic development did not disclose details of the plan.

The immigration department has deported more than 2,000 foreign workers so far this year, including 1,401 under a voluntary departure programme and 101 workers deported due to criminal offences.

Some 427 undocumented workers were deported after their arrest in various operations while 56 expatriates unfit for working due to poor heath were denied entry.

The majority of migrant workers in the country work in the construction industry.

Anwar said the Maldives needed foreign labour as the country lacked a large workforce. The department’s task was “managing” the influx of migrant workers, he added.

Last month, the immigration department instructed local businesses to send back migrant workers hired as photographers and cashiers before June 7 and apply for cancellation of employment approvals. The department warned that employers who do not comply will be penalised.

Deputy controller of immigration Abdulla Algeen said at Monday’s press conference that 95 percent of migrant workers enter the Maldives legally, but became “irregular” due to the fault of both sponsors and the employees themselves, who often “flee.”

A performance audit of the immigration department released last month 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.”

The 2014 census recorded only 58,683 expatriates were residing in the Maldives. The department of national planning had 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 341,256 local population.



Over 1,900 illegal expatriates deported

The department of immigration has deported over 1,900 illegal migrant workers so far this year.

The department revealed in a press release last week that 1,953 expatriates were identified and deported in 12 operations conducted in 2015. More than 8,800 undocumented workers were deported last year.

Some 36 migrant workers were meanwhile denied entry this year due to medical reasons.

The immigration department media officer told CNM the migrant workers do not have their passports with them, which forces the department to make new passports through embassies.

Embassies in the Maldives are able to make about 30 passports or travel documents a week, while the number of illegal migrant workers the department plans to deport were higher than 30.

The police meanwhile caught 33 undocumented workers last week in a joint operation conducted by the immigration department at the T-jetty and auction shop areas in Malé.

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.


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.


Immigration department fines 25 businesses for hiring illegal migrant workers

The department of immigration has reportedly fined 21 guest houses, four teashops, and 14 shops for hiring illegal migrant workers in a crackdown across the Maldives.

The immigration department discovered the undocumented expatriates in an operation conducted with assistance from the police.

A fine of MVR50,000 (US$3,242) is specified in the law for hiring illegal migrant workers.

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

special operation to deport undocumented workers was announced on April 24, with Minister of Defence and National Security Mohamed Nazim – also in charge of the immigration department – promising “the whole Malé will be cleaned [of migrant workers]” within three weeks.


Immigration department discontinues quota for house maids

The department of immigration has temporarily ceased issuing quotas to employment agencies for bringing in expatriate house maids or domestic servants.

According to local media, the department would not be issuing employment approval for house maids from August 21 to November 30 as part of efforts to clamp down on illegal immigrants.

The move follows a freeze on issuing quotas for farmers, tailors and barbers earlier this month.

An immigration official told newspaper Haveeru that house maids were often thrown out by their employers.

“These immigrants survive by doing odd jobs and any other kind of work they can find. Most of these immigrants have come as housemaids. Identifying the vocation with other vocations that may facilitate human trafficking, we have decided to discontinue allowing quota for housemaids even. This move will restrict illegal immigration,” the official was quoted as saying.

He added that the restriction would encourage hiring Maldivians for vacancies.

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

special operation to deport undocumented workers was announced on April 24, with Minister of Defence and National Security Mohamed Nazim – also in charge of the immigration department – promising “the whole Malé will be cleaned [of migrant workers]” within three weeks.


Immigration ceases issuing quotas for foreign farmers, tailors, and barbers

The department of immigration and emigration has temporarily ceased issuing quotas to employment agencies to bring in foreign workers for farming, tailoring and barbershops.

The department said in a press release yesterday (August 11) that the freeze was enforced on August 7 and would continue till October 30.

The move was intended to assist efforts to deport undocumented workers, reduce the influx of expatriate labour, and provide job opportunities for Maldivians, the department explained.

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

A special operation to deport undocumented workers was announced on April 24, with Minister of Defence and National Security Mohamed Nazim – also in charge of the immigration department – promising “the whole Malé will be cleaned [of migrant workers]” within three weeks.


Government plans massive operation to deport undocumented workers

The government today announced a massive operation to detain and deport undocumented workers.

“Within three to four months the whole Malé will be cleaned,” said the Minister of Defence and National Security Mohamed Nazim – also in charge of the Immigration Department.

“They can’t live in Malé. When I say this, it will happen – I am not just saying it.”

Nazim told media the government is planning a “very strong operation” to reduce the number of undocumented migrant workers in Maldives “for the safety and security of everyone and for the economy”.

He said the operation would be carried out jointly by Maldives National Defence Force, the Maldives Police Service, the Department of Immigration and Emigration, and other relevant institutions.

Those detained in the operation are to be be deported using the money deposited by their employers when they were recruited.

A special facility has now been assigned to keep those who will be detained in the operation. Local councils will implement the operation in the atolls.

Nazim said the operation will begin before Ramazan and will target all undocumented workers – from those at the local market, to those wiping motorcycles.

Those deported will have to wait 5 to 10 years before being allowed to enter Maldives again, as opposed to those recently deported through a special voluntary repatriation program, who have the option to return in six months.

The defense minister noted that the capacity of institutions will be considered when carrying out the operation, as the government “does not want to detain so many people and take care of them”.

Actions such as imposing fines and restricting quotas will be taken against those who employ such workers, while a public awareness programme will be carried out simultaneously.

Limiting quotas for agencies

Nazim today announced that, within the year, the recruitment of foreign workers will be limited only to employment agencies.

In this regard, quotas – the maximum number of foreign nationals that can be employed by a single employer – will be issued only through employment agencies.

“Instead of individuals requesting for a quota, they should go through [recruitment] agencies to get the quota. They should apply to agencies and do it through those agencies,” he said, noting that individuals can still employ foreign workers, but can also only do so through agencies.

Nazim said the main reason for the change is the current difficulty in holding individuals accountable.

When the government allowed individuals to recruit foreign employees directly, in 2009, the Association for Employment Agencies expressed concern that the move would increase the number of undocumented workers.

In addition to the approximately 110,000 migrant workers employed in the Maldives, the number of undocumented workers have been estimated to be as high as 44,000. Many workers live at congested labor quarters owned by locals.

Authorities reported a good response to the recent voluntary repatriation scheme, with over 4,000 workers reported to have left the Maldives between December and the end of March.

Meanwhile, the Maldives Inland Revenue Authority (MIRA) today announced that, starting from Sunday, immigration related payments such as the visa fee and fines will be collected from the newly established ‘Huravee Collection Center’ on the third floor of the Huravee Building.

Commissioner General of MIRA, Yazeed Mohamed said that similar collection centers will be established around the country to make such payments easier. And said that the authority is working to establish a tax collection center in Hulhumale as well.


Immigration department boosts efforts to curb undocumented workers

The Department of Immigration and Emigration has said that it is strengthening action taken against those who employ or provide housing for undocumented migrant workers.

Deputy CEO of Immigration Abdulla Munaz said the department is strengthening the implementation of existing regulations because the provision of employment and shelter is a major cause is rising numbers of undocumented workers in the country.

“We will take whatever action is necessary. The actions [to be taken] are very clear in the existing laws. The immigration act allows to fine anyone that employs or provide accommodation for immigrants residing in the Maldives unlawfully,” said Munaz.

According to the department, employers will be fined between MVR15,000 and MRV50,000 if found to be unlawfully employing or housing an immigrant, while the removal of the right to employ foreign workers can result from employing even a single undocumented worker.

Rather than blacklisting companies, the department now targets employers engaged in the unlawful employment of foreign workers, preventing them from employing any migrant worker under their name.

In addition to the approximately 110,000 migrant workers employed in the Maldives, the number of undocumented workers have been estimated to be as high as 44,000. Many workers live at congested labor quarters owned by locals.

While some of these workers are engaged in manual labor, others are employed officially by companies and by individuals working for various industries such agriculture, construction, and fisheries – an industry in which foreign workers are not allowed.

As per immigration laws and regulations, foreign employees can only do the type of work for which the visa is issued and only for the employers with whom they are registered.

Voluntary repatriation program

Munaz said that the intention of stricter regulation is not take action against as many people, but to resolve the issue.

He described the voluntary repatriation programme announced last December as an opportunity for employers to get things right, as the department understands how widespread the employment of such workers are in the country.

The programme – offering leniency for undocumented migrant workers who wish to return to their home countries voluntarily on their own expenses – received huge support, according to the department.

By last week, approximately 4,400 workers out of 5,134 that registered for the programme had left the Maldives. Under the scheme, they will be allowed to return within six months of departure. According to immigration, on average 50 of these workers are now leaving Maldives daily.

“The reason we started that programme is because we noticed that a lot of foreign workers who are staying in Maldives unlawfully are forced to do so. They are not doing it intentionally, but circumstances they faced lead them to be in that situation,” explained Munaz.

“If we are to investigate each and every case to see if it was intentional or not, it would take a lot of time to achieve the primary objective of reducing the number of undocumented workers,” he continued.

Some workers are recruited unlawfully at the airport before they even meet the actual employer by promising higher wages and providing false information, said Munaz.

“These people don’t have documents and they actually want to leave. But they can’t. They don’t have their documents. So we helped them through their consulates to create a one way travel document so they could leave. We received a good cooperation from all embassies.”

Munaz said cases identified as human trafficking are forwarded to the police, and cases where there are labour right violations such as non-payment of wages are forwarded to the labour relations authority for further investigation.

“Sometimes employers let their foreign employees go, stop paying them wages, and ask them to go out and seek work on their own. In such cases the employees will not have any place to go, they may not have much savings.”

“Recently there was a case where a group of migrant workers were taken from Malé to another island to work, and after completing the work the employers went to another island and just left them there,” said Munaz.

Workers in such situations who voluntarily approach the department are provided with accommodation at the ‘Bidheysee Hiyaa’ safe house until their travel arrangements are made from the employer’s deposit at the department.

Those who are caught by the department are held at the Immigration Removal Center at Hulhumalé Prison until they are deported.

The People’s Majlis passed the country’s first anti-trafficking legislation last December following international criticism of the Maldives’ moves to prevent the practice.


HRCM introduces benchmark for migrant worker rights

Coinciding with the International Migrants Day, the Human Rights Commission of the Maldives (HRCM) has launched a national benchmark for protecting migrant worker rights.

The benchmark was launched by HRCM President Mariyam Azra and Deputy Minister of Human Resources, Youth and Sports Naaif Shawkath at a ceremony held at Nasandhura Palace Hotel today.

Officials from various stakeholder institutions such as the Maldives Police Service and the Immigration Department were present at the ceremony, later taking part in a forum to discuss the utilisation of this benchmark in their work.

According to the commission, the purpose of having such a benchmark is to encourage protection of the rights of migrant workers and to provide a guideline highlighting the basic human rights principles to be followed.

It is based on the constitution of the Maldives, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families (ICRMW) and other human rights conventions to which the Maldives is a party.

While most of these standards are already obligations on the state, the benchmark itself is not something state institutions are obliged to follow, though the commission members noted the government’s willingness to accept it.

Speaking at the launching ceremony, commission member Jeehan Mahmood said she hoped all institutions would use it as a tool for protecting the rights of migrant workers. She noted the positive response from these institutions in meetings held within past few days to discuss the benchmark’s use in their work.

Advising the government in “formulation of laws, regulations and administrative codes concerning the promotion of a high regard for human rights and the protection and sustenance of such rights” is stated as a key function of the commission in the Human Rights Commission Act.

Speaking at the benchmark launching ceremony Deputy Minister Naaif advised all relevant institutions to accept the benchmark, and thanked HRCM for developing it. He said following it will standardise the work of all institutions.

In a press release issued today, the HRCM called on the state to facilitate implementation of  the recently ratified Anti Human Trafficking Act and reiterated their call to ratify and implement ICRMW as as soon as possible. The Maldives has agreed to ratify and implement this convention on various occasions.

The HRCM has cited the issue of healthcare as major challenge for undocumented migrant workers living in Maldives. According to a video presentation given at the ceremony, such workers hesitate to see a doctor even if they can afford to.

The video also showed that, out of all complaints submitted to the commission regarding rights of migrant workers, 68 percent of cases involved non-payment of wages, unfair expulsions, and the failure to provide food and shelter. 18 percent of cases were said to concern health issues while in detention.

Among other complaints received by the commission are the withholding of travel documents and work visas, refusing leave from work, and the termination of employment contracts without prior notice.

While there is no accurate official figures of the migrant worker population in the Maldives, the highest estimates suggest that it crossed the 100,000 mark in 2011, whilst the number of undocumented migrant workers have been placed as high as 44,000.

These numbers indicate that migrant workers might now represent more than one third of the total population.

The country was this year kept on the US State Department’s Tier Two Watch List for Human Trafficking for the fourth consecutive year, with promises that demotion to the third tier would be guaranteed in 2014 without significant progress being made.