Deadline for New Delhi to take back helicopters from Male ends; job-seekers yet to get work permits
Bilateral relations between India and the Maldives are on the brink once again as the deadline for India to withdraw its two helicopters has passed and the issue of visas for thousands of Indian job-seekers remains unresolved.
The visas of more than 26 Indian Navy personnel operating the Advanced Light Helicopter (ALH) were valid till June 30. However, Male has refused to extend their visas and has already asked India to take back the two ALHs. “The Navy personnel are in the Maldives awaiting further instructions,” a Defence official said.
The two helicopters were gifted by India in 2013 and one was operated by the Indian Coast Guard and the other by the Indian Navy. The validity for the Coast Guard helicopter had expired earlier this year, but the helicopter still remains there. At the end of May, the visas of the Navy personnel were extended by one month after the intervention of External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj.
Maldives Ambassador to India Ahmed Mohamed said there had been no news on whether the issue over the helicopters had been resolved, adding that the matter was being handled “directly in Male”.
“What I know is that the helicopters were supposed to be taken back by June 30 [to India].” External Affairs Ministry officials declined to comment, and said the issue was being dealt with by the Defence Ministry.
Hundreds of Indians say their jobs may be on the line as tensions between the two countries continue.
The Hindu had reported on June 14 that an estimated 2,000 Indian applicants who have been offered jobs in the Maldives had not received work permits since February. According to dozens of such applicants, most employers have informed them that “Indian work visas” are not being issued at present, and some have sent letters with a deadline of July 1, after which they would fill their positions.
“We feel like victims of the bad relations between India and the Maldives. If these tensions weren’t there, we would have received our work permits in a matter of days,” says a qualified naturopath, who had bagged a job at the prestigious Four Seasons Hotel Spa. The naturopath, who asked not to be identified, said that the human resources department at the hotel had last told him that at least 20 Indians who had been offered jobs since February were still awaiting some movement in matters from the Immigration department.
After a letter from Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan, the External Affairs Minister had contacted the Maldivian Foreign Minister, while Foreign Secretary Vijay Gokhale had met with Mr. Mohamed on June 14. “The Maldives side has been reminded of our mutual commitment to promote people-to-people exchanges and contacts,” a source said.
Meanwhile, most companies in the Maldives are calling for job applicants who are “not Indian nationals”. An opening for chefs at the soon-to-be-opened ‘Enchanted Island’ resort read, “Please note, vacancies are open for all nationalities except Indians.” Another applicant, Jaidev (last name withheld on request), a data analyst, told The Hindu that time is running out for all Indian job holders at hotels in the Maldives this month. “My hotel said they can’t wait any longer and will begin to hire nationals from the Philippines, Sri Lanka and other countries,” he said.