The government has announced an extensive programme to determine the number of undocumented immigrants in the country and offer them a pathway to regularise their status, in a move aimed at addressing the issue of illegal immigration.

The initiative, revealed by Ali Ihusaan, the Minister of Homeland Security and Technology, at the ‘Ahaa’ public forum, will commence on 2 May. The nationwide programme aims to collect detailed information about migrant workers, a demographic for which the government lacks precise data.

“We are collecting biometric fingerprint data from all ten digits of each migrant worker, particularly those within the unskilled labour demographic, subsequently capturing an identification photograph of them, and cross-referencing these with the existing work permit records in our possession,” stated Ihusaan.

The programme, expected to be completed within a year, will also help determine the locations of the migrant workers. The programme will officially commence on Himmafushi Island in Kaafu Atoll on 2 May, with nationwide data collection beginning simultaneously, said Ihusaan.

The initiative will be carried out in collaboration with local councils and the Maldives Police Service, which will also collect data on immigrants working legally in the country.

In addition to the data collection, the government is formulating plans to streamline the process of transferring the sponsorship of migrant workers from one local individual or company to another.

“In certain instances, the person [migrant worker] is required to return to their home country and re-enter the Maldives for the sponsorship transfer to take effect. Our objective is to simplify this procedure,” stated Ihusaan. The regularisation of undocumented migrant workers will be the second phase of the programme, he added.

Since the late 2000s, the challenges associated with undocumented immigrants have escalated significantly, with the population of undocumented migrant workers witnessing an exponential increase.

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

The former government had also launched a programme for undocumented workers to attain legal status. 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.