The government will disclose the accurate count of undocumented immigrants residing in the country within a year’s time, Minister of Homeland Security and Technology Ali Ihusaan has said. When questioned in parliament over the matter, Ihusaan revealed that the ministry is employing a dedicated system to gather biometric data from all migrant workers in the country.

This initiative is being executed in partnership with local councils and police stations throughout the country, according to the Homeland Security Minister. Despite existing legislation that requires the sharing of a comprehensive register of all migrant workers with local councils, Ihusaan acknowledged that the councils are currently without access to this database.

“Our objective is to authorise local councils and police stations to access the fingerprint database, equip them with mobile and stationary devices for fingerprint scanning, and subsequently commence the accumulation of fingerprint data from all migrant workers who use these facilities and can be identified via their fingerprints,” Ihusaan explained.

This system will enable the government to monitor the movements of migrant workers, identifying those who depart from a specific island and those who return, he added.

While 135,149 active work permits have been issued to Bangladeshi nationals, only 39,004 pay their work permit fees and possess valid work permits. A significant proportion of those without valid work permits, according to Ihusaan, are recorded in the border control system as having exited the country, illustrating a grave situation concerning undocumented immigrants.

“Companies have employed immigrants, but some have absconded due to unpaid wages and other related issues, and these companies have failed to relay these details to the authorities. When these immigrants leave, they are classified as ‘missing’. However, this does not necessarily imply that they have exited the country,” Ihusaan clarified.

The minister, identifying the issue of undocumented immigrants as a national security threat, issued a stern warning to those who facilitate the recruitment and trafficking of immigrants into the country. Those exerting undue influence on relevant agencies to enable these criminal activities will be identified and dealt with accordingly, Ihusaan cautioned.

“There is a neglect of duty in these crimes by individuals working in relevant government agencies. Some individuals who have exerted undue influence and facilitated the illegal recruitment of immigrants are currently under investigation. Strict action will be taken against these individuals,” Ihusaan affirmed.

Since the late 2000s, the challenges associated with undocumented immigration have escalated significantly, with the population of undocumented migrant workers witnessing an exponential increase. In response to this growing concern, previous administrations have undertaken a multitude of measures aimed at addressing the complexities related to undocumented immigration.

The majority of undocumented migrant workers in the Maldives originate from Bangladesh. The previous administration, led by the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP), halted the issuing of work permits for unskilled labour from Bangladesh as part of a broader strategy to address the issue of illegal immigration. However, the current administration reversed this policy decision. The former government had also launched a regularisation programme for undocumented workers attain the legal status.

Since lifting the ban on the recruitment of unskilled workers from Bangladesh by the current administration, 5,400 work permits have been issued, revealed Ihusaan. Approximately 4,000 of these individuals have already arrived in the country.

The legislative limit on the number of migrant workers from a single country who are permitted to enter and work in the country at any given time is 100,000. Nevertheless, with the recent issuance of new work permits, this legal threshold is projected to be met within the next four months, added Ihusaan.

According to the Homeland Security Minister, the current population of Bangladeshi immigrants in the Maldives is reported to be 90,624 as of 17 December 2023. Between 12 November 2023 and 17 December 2023, 206 Bangladeshi nationals cancelled their visas and left the country.