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.


Visa applications to travel India now take longer to process

Visas to travel to India will now take one week to process, the High Commission of India in Maldives has announced.

Previously the process would take two to three days, however a notice from the high commission has now advised people to apply for their visas well in advance to avoid inconvenience.

The high commission has also announced that visa free travel facilities to India available to Maldivian citizens are only valid for tourism purposes.

Citizens wishing to travel to India for a purpose other than tourism are advised to obtain the appropriate visas before travelling to the country.

According to local media, the high commission said that these changes are solely due to technical reasons.


Immigration head calls for “clean-up” of Thilafushi over crime fears

Controller of Immigration and Emigration Dr Mohamed Ali  has said that a raid on the island of Thilafushi yesterday which uncovered 134 unregistered foreign workers reflects wider fears over criminal operations being conducted on the island.

Dr Ali told Minivan News that the group of foreign workers, mostly Bangladesh nationals, had been uncovered after the Immigration Department had made continued warnings to employers on the island to have their workers “regularised” with the correct papers by the end of August.

Beyond failing to register workers, the immigration controller said the raid reflected wider concerns over addressing potential criminal operations on Thilafushi – popularly referred to in international media as the Maldives’ ‘rubbish island’.

“Right now there are just so many issues to be addressed on Thilafushi,” he claimed. “We need to clean it up in all aspects. We believe there are a number of illegal operations there.”

According to the immigration department, these alleged activities are thought to include the  shipping of illegal goods and drugs.

Dr Ali added that the expatriate workers found without correct papers were presently being kept for processing in Male’.

“At present they’re employers are working to take them back and have them processed,” he said.

The immigration controller did not have the exact figures on the number of workers presently being kept at a centre in Male’ while their papers were undergoing processing.

“These workers are not being detained, they are being kept comfortably and fed while processing is going on,” he added.

The High Commissioner of Bangladesh, Rear Admiral Abu Saeed Mohamed Abdul Awal, said he had been aware of the raid that had taken place yesterday by the Department of Immigration and Emmigration, but was awaiting for information on the matter at the time of press.

Back in May, 47 Bangladeshi nationals working for a local security were seized by the Department of Immigration as part of a wider crackdown on illeal immigrants after being found to have been incorrectly registered in the country.

Police Spokesperson Sub-Inspector Hassan Haneef confirmed that it had worked with the Department of Immigration and Emmigration on the raid as part of a joint operation.

Haneef added that this joint operation with immigration officials would be continuing in the future, but would not be focused solely on Thilafushi

Back in July, the Maldives was included on the US State Department’s Tier Two Watch List for Human Trafficking for a third year in a row.


Maldivians to be allowed to travel to Minicoy visa free

Maldivians will be allowed to travel to Minicoy without a visa following the signing of an agreement between President Mohamed Nasheed and Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, during his SAARC visit.

Minicoy is part of the island chain that makes up the Maldives and its 9000 inhabitants share many cultural similarities, including religion, and speak an old form of Dhivehi. It has been under Indian authority since the middle of the 16th century.

Press Secretary for President Nasheed, Mohamed Zuhair, said that many Maldivians had family ties with Minicoy, but obtaining visas was “really difficult, and could in some cases take up to three months.”

The new arrangement, he said, was “a very welcome development”, and comes as part of the establishment of an Indian Ocean ferry and cargo service.

The ferry service, which President Nasheed claimed during the SAARC Summit would be finalised by the end of December, will operate between Kulhudhuffushi in Haa Dhaal Atoll, Minicoy and the Indian city of Kochi.

As part of the agreement India will develop the harbour at Kulhudhuffushi, a population hub in the north of the Maldives that overwhelmingly supported the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) in the local council election.

“It is very significant in the sense that small-to-medium businesses, such as handicraft producers and cottage industries, will be able to produce and export to India without needing to use air transport,” Zuhair said.

The government was currently debating the mix of passenger and cargo requirements for the ferry service, he said, and was optimistic that the service would be launched by the end of the year.


Fewer expatriate detainments post-visa reform

Fewer expatriates have been detained for unpaid visa fees before leaving the country since Immigration Control adapted its policy to “international standard procedure,” Immigration Controller Abdulla Shahid has said.

Previously, expatriate workers have been allowed to leave the Maldives without paying outstanding visa fees, Haveeru reports. The policy allegedly cost the Maldivian government Rf 120 million (US$7.8 million) last year.

Shahid told Haveeru that the Maldives’ former policy allowing expatriate workers to leave with outstanding visa fees was a rare case within the international community.

Immigration recently required recruitment agencies to pay visa fees for expatriate workers for a minimum of three months in a lump sum.

Shahid said that fees are non-refundable if a worker does not stay for a visa’s entire duration.


Visa fees to be paid in 3 month lump sum

Recruitment agencies are newly required to pay visa fees for expatriate workers for at least three months, according to new policies at Maldives Inland Revenue Authority (MIRA).

The visa fees of Rf250 were previously payable every month. Under the new policy, agencies will be required to submit at least Rf750 when making payments, Haveeru reports.

A MIRA authority told Haveeru that the policy was designed by the Immigration Department.

Recruitment agencies expressed concern over the policy change, allegedly because of the difficulty of providing larger sums of money at once. Others have claimed that it’s a waste of money on workers who are imported for a single month of work.


Australia to allow online tourist visas for Maldivians

The Australian government will allow Maldivian nationals to apply for tourist visas online from July 1.

In a statement, the Australian High Commission in Colombo said the new system would not require Maldivians to have a visa label placed in their passport.

“A notification is sent to the client providing details of the visa and airlines are able to confirm the visa entitlements through the Advanced Passenger Processing System,” the High Commission said.

“Clients can also, if they wish, print a copy of their visa approval notification email to carry with them whilst traveling to Australia.”

For more information and to access the lodgement gateway, go to


Dhaka Embassy to issue Maldives work visas pre-arrival in trafficking reduction effort

Bangladeshi nationals will be issued work visas by the Maldives High Commission in the national capital of Dhaka, in an attempt to address booming numbers of workers arriving in the country.

Immigration Controller Abdulla Shahid told Minivan News that Bangladeshi workers would require additional documents verified and issued in Bangladesh before their work visas and ID cards could be issued in the Maldives.

Following the cabinet decision to implement the changes on Tuesday (June 7), Minivan News understands that the government will outline the particulars of the new system during a press conference early next week.

Newspaper Haveeru reported that the decision would also include a programme to identify and deport illegal workers currently in the country.

Shahid has previously estimated that the number of expatriate workers in the Maldives would reach 100,000 in June – a third of the population. The government has no figures, but estimates that up to half that number may be illegal.

The high percentage of foreign workers relative to the Maldives’ foreign currency income has forced the government to confront the country’s heavy reliance on expatriate labour as part of wider economic reforms.

recent report by economics lecturer and Assistant Manger of the Maldives Monetary Authority (MMA)’s Monetary policy and Research Division, Ibrahim Ameer, estimated that each expatriate worker was remitting US$100 per month to their families back home.

Ameer estimated that this was draining the country of US$8 million in foreign currency every month – in comparison, a greater amount than the country was earning from the Tourism GST.

Stopping traffic

Former Bangladeshi High Commissioner Professor Selina Mohsin told Minivan News last year that 40 Bangladeshi nationals were arriving at reception daily, “having come to the Maldives and found they have nothing to do.”

In early 2010, as an experiment, Professor Mohsin stopped attesting work permit requests and observed that this hardly dented arrivals.

Under Maldivian law, foreign workers arriving in the Maldives must have a work permit issued by the Immigration Department. This is obtained through an employer or agent, who must first request a foreign worker quota from the Ministry of Trade and Human Resources.

“The Maldivian [side] gets into connection with the Bangladeshi brokers, gets a business permit from the Ministry of Human Resources, says they want to recruit and gets a quota for more workers than they require – if they require any at all – and then ask a Bangladeshi counterpart to bring in the workers,” Professor Mohsin said in an earlier interview with Minivan News, explaining that brokers would then charge individual workers between up to US$4000 to arrange their employment in the Maldives.

In many cases the family home and land was sold or mortgaged to raise this fee, split two-thirds in favour of the Maldivian broker.

One application that arrived on her desk – approved by the Ministry of Human Resources – was a request for 1800 workers for an unspecified construction project.

“Those people would have come [to Male’] had I not checked. Had I not done it, 1800 people would have sold their homes and become delinquent in the Maldives. This did not bother a Maldivian broker. Hell is not good enough for the people who are doing this,” Professor Mohsin told Minivan News at the time.

One broker investigated last year by Bangladeshi authorities was thought to be involved in a labour trafficking operation to the Maldives worth upwards of US$3.6 million.

Shahid acknowledged that the forging of documents in both the Immigration Department and the Human Resources Ministry was the subject of an ongoing police investigation.

The new requirements would not impact the Maldives’ policy of issuing tourist visas on arrival, he said, as this was already policed by requiring visitors to have a pre-existing hotel reservation.

Meanwhile, immigration authorities today arrested three people for attempting to leave the country on fake passports, including a Malaysian man, a Chinese woman and her 18 year old son.

Haveeru reported that the Malayisan man was believed to have arranged false Taiwanese passports for the other two passengers that were arrested.

Police said the matter was a suspected case of human trafficking.


Sri Lanka to ban visa on arrivals for all except Singapore, Maldives

Sri Lanka will withdraw visa-on-arrival facilities in August for all visitors to the country except those from Singapore or the Maldives.

Foreigners wishing to visit Sri Lanka will be required to pay for a visa online, or visit a Sri Lankan mission.

A statement from the Sri Lankan government said tourists without internet access would need to apply for visas through private agencies.

The decision has raised concern in Sri Lanka’s booming tourism sector about the potential impact on arrivals.