The immigration department is investigating 67 employers for alleged violations in bringing foreign workers to the Maldives this year.
The employers, including individuals and local businesses, are accused of “neglecting their responsibilities” over the foreign workers and “administrative action” has been taken against 27 companies, the immigration department said in a statement Thursday night.
The probe has flagged suspected fraud in the issuance of quotas, it added, including invalid documentation and approval of quotas in excess of the number of workers needed for projects.
After collecting “documentary evidence” related to the cases, the immigration department has decided to work with the police to forward cases to the Prosecutor General’s office.
Taking measures to tackle fraudulent recruitment and corruption in the awarding of expatriate quotas is a target of President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih’s first 100 days in office.
An estimated 63,000 foreign nationals work in the Maldives illegally out of a migrant worker population of 144,607, the department’s new leadership revealed in January.
Controller of Immigration Mohamed Ahmed Hussain ‘Hanafy’ told the press that quotas were issued illegally under the previous government.
Small cafés and guesthouses were authorised to bring up to 100 workers. “For some projects there were 3,700 quotas issued in violation of the rules,” he alleged, adding that such permits have since been cancelled.
On Sunday, the ministry of economic development took over the mandate for setting quotas and granting employment approvals from the immigration department, which will continue issuing visas and work permits.
The economic ministry will also accept and refund deposit fees and offer other services related to the Xpat online system. Service counters are located on the third floor of the Huravee building in Malé.
– Human trafficking –
Immigration officials told the press in January that workers arrive with valid work permits but some become irregular when they fail to perform a medical evaluation and obtain work visas.
Several workers who arrive to work in resorts also flee and join a labour black market, officials said.
But according to an annual human trafficking report by the United States, many workers from South Asian countries are brought in by recruitment agents with the promise of resort jobs only to be left to fend for themselves after their passports are confiscated.
“Recruitment agents in source countries collude with employers and agents in Maldives to facilitate fraudulent recruitment and forced labour of migrant workers,” according to the 2018 trafficking in persons report, which downgraded the Maldives on a watchlist over the failure to meet minimum standards for elimination.
Foreign workers in the Maldives, predominantly Bangladeshi and Indian men, are subjected to “practices indicative of forced labour, including fraudulent recruitment, confiscation of identity and travel documents, withholding or non-payment of wages, and debt bondage.”
The first cases under the 2013 anti-human trafficking law were prosecuted in 2016. Three Bangladeshi men were sentenced to 10 years in jail for sex trafficking in November that year.
However, no convictions have been secured since.
Trials are stalled in four trafficking cases against five Maldivian and seven Bangladeshi defendants whilst the Prosecutor General’s office pressed sex trafficking charges against one Maldivian defendant.
“Observers stated some traffickers operated with impunity because of their connections with influential Maldivians and alleged the government was more likely to prosecute foreign suspects than Maldivian suspects,” the US anti-trafficking report stated.
“Observers reported some officials warned businesses in advance of planned raids for suspected trafficking offences or other labour abuses. The government did not report any investigations, prosecutions, or convictions of government officials complicit in human trafficking offences.”