Despite a recommendation from the Indian High Commission in Male to New Delhi that enhanced emigration protection be provided to Indian labourers arriving in Maldives, India has not made emigration checks mandatory for those seeking work in the archipelago-nation. There are about 23,000 Indian labourers in Maldives.

The High Commission often gets visitors who are either duped of their wages or left in the lurch by their employers. “I remember a person in Laamu atoll [south Central province]. I first met him on January 20 [this year] at a medical camp,” a High Commission official said. “At that time he was not paid for about 8 or 10 months’ salary. I told about him and some others to the State Minister who inaugurated the camp. Nothing seems to have happened after that.”

The High Commission received 400 complaints last year. In almost all the cases, the employers took away the passports of workers, making sure they could not move about. It brought this issue to the notice of the Maldivian authorities at various levels.

Then, there is another class of workers. They were not duped, but were put to serious hardship because the government departments did not renew their work permits on time. Without these permits, the employees became ‘illegals’ and thus neither could they send money home every month nor go back home because they had overstayed their permit.

A few notices stuck on the window panes of State Bank of India’s Male branch say: “It has been made mandatory to attach an attested (by employer) copy of valid work permit with every remittance from w.e.f. 1st November 2012 to comply with the provisions of financial transactions reporting regulations (FTRR) — 2011. Remittance will not be sent is form is dropped in the drop box without attaching valid work permit copy — CEO.”

This correspondent met a group of seven Indian paramedical staff, who are desperate to renew their work permits. They said they were happy with their work and they wanted to continue with their work here. They had been in Male for two weeks trying to complete the formalities.

A woman employee, a paramedic from Thodupuzha in Kerala, said she is to get married the following week, and she was running from the Health Ministry to the Labour Ministry the past few weeks trying to sort things out. Another paramedic, also from Kerala, also had her wedding fixed a few weeks later, pleaded with the High Commission officials to take up their case.

Finally, the two got their work permit issues sorted out after High Commissioner Dnyaneshwar Mulay met them and assured action.

Minivan News, a local English news website, had studied the issue in 2010 and estimated that trafficking had become the second largest foreign exchange earner for the country, eclipsing fishing. “Our investigations put this industry at $ 45 million. A later government report showed that this could be as much as $ 123 million,” its editor, J.J. Robinson, said in a chat with The Hindu. The investigation revealed “a chain of paper companies being used by unscrupulous recruitment agents, who solicit labourers from mostly Bangladesh with the promise of well-paid jobs in Maldives, confiscate their passports and either abandon or offer them different, poorly paid jobs on arrival.”

Maldives, which, for three years in a row, has been featured in the Tier-2 watch-list of the U.S. State Department for Human Trafficking, is in danger of slipping further.

The Indian Emigration Act, 1983, provides that no citizen of India shall migrate unless he-or-she obtains emigration clearance from Protector of Emigrants. Maldives is not in the list of 17 countries that do not have strict laws regulating the entry and employment of foreign nationals.

“They also do not provide avenues for grievance redress. Thus they have been categorised as Emigration Check Required (ECR) countries,” says the Overseas Indian Affairs website.