In a span of just six months, 21-year-old Dinesh Nair’s* hopes have turned to dust, after the dream job he was offered was taken away because of the downturn in India-Maldives ties.
Since February, when Maldivian President Abdulla Yameen ordered an emergency, which was strongly opposed by India, the Maldives Immigration Authority has reportedly held up thousands of work permits to Indians, including Mr. Nair’s, who was offered a well-paid position at the premier Four Seasons Resort.
“I gave up several other job offers to accept this one; little did I know that I would be facing unemployment instead,” he told The Hindu , barely able to hold back his tears as he spoke over the telephone, saying that he is worried about being able to pay back education loans of about ₹3 lakh.
More startling are public advertisements from companies that are hiring - they clearly say that “Indians need not apply”, as they would not be given work permits. One post by the internationally renowned Marriott chain of hotels that advertised on Wednesday for 18 jobs said: “Please note that work permits are not currently being issued to Indian Nationals.”
The general manager of the St. Regis in Vommuli, Alexander Blair, also advertised for the chef of an Indian speciality restaurant, adding on his page on the online jobs network LinkedIn, “Unfortunately, with the current situation that Work Permits are not being granted to Indian Nationals, we are ideally searching for an Indian who is holding another passport or is the spouse of a Maldivian.” The Hindu reached out to Mr. Blair for a comment, but he did not respond.
Despite the increasing numbers of desperate job-seekers, the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA)has refused to take up the matter publicly, and the Embassy of India in the Maldives (EoI) has replied to queries from the job-seekers by saying it cannot help.
“It is the prerogative of the Maldivian immigration to issue visa or not,” said one reply from the visa officer at the EoI in Male. Sources say India has taken up the issue through diplomatic channels “urging the Maldives government to abide by the bilateral visa agreement,” with the hope that the matter would be resolved soon.
But for some like 31-year-old registered male nurse Thomas Jacob*, time is running out. The manager of a resort that hired him now says he will not hold his job beyond July 1. He says his “only hope” is to have his voice heard by the MEA and spends “morning, noon and night” at his hometown in Kerala tweeting to Minister Sushma Swaraj and emailing officials concerned.
Banking on Minister
Mr. Jacob had been working at a hospital in Male when he was recruited as a nurse at an upscale resort in January. He accepted the job, and decided to return home for a brief holiday to see his four-year-old son and wife who is pregnant, while his work permit was being sorted out.
“My entire family, my parents all depend on me and now I can’t even pay my life insurance premium or my loans back. Ms. Swaraj listens to all sorts of requests from people, and hundreds of us have been mass-tweeting her for days hoping she will do something,” he told The Hindu . “Frankly, it’s my last hope, as I have no job options here,” he said.
The Maldivian Embassy in Delhi declined to comment on the issue. On March 12, Immigration Department spokesman Hassan Khaleel told the Maldives’ Independent newspaper that reports of visa delays for Indians were “completely false.”
However, officials who agreed to speak on the condition of anonymity said that thousands of Indians face a squeeze on their work permits from the Maldivian government in place since February, and there appeared to be a “strict directive” from the Maldivian President’s office against work permits to Indians, as well as against facilitating other requests from Indian companies there. Around 29,000 Indians live and work in the Maldives, and an estimated 2,000 have pending applications for work permits.
India-Maldives ties have been on the downswing since 2015, when Prime Minister Narendra Modi cancelled his visit to Male over the treatment of opposition leaders by President Yameen. Since then, China’s growing presence and a free trade agreement with Beijing as well as President Yameen’s emergency declaration and arrest of opposition leaders have led to protests from India, further straining ties.
On Tuesday, The Hindu had reported that the Maldives has told India to remove its helicopters from two strategic locations by the end of June, when visas of the Indian Coast guard and naval pilots and personnel manning the choppers will expire; an indication that ties could plummet further.
(*Names changedon request)