Visa cartels block Indian workers seeking Malta jobs

Staff shortages in Malta’s High Commission in India, as well as a ‘mafia’ of private middlemen controlling the flow of visa applicants in India, have resulted in huge delays in visa processing for people wanting to come to work in Malta

Malta’s High Commission in New Delhi
Malta’s High Commission in New Delhi

Staff shortages in Malta’s High Commission in India, as well as a ‘mafia’ of private middlemen controlling the flow of visa applicants in India, have resulted in huge delays in visa processing for people wanting to come to work in Malta.

People trying to book an appointment directly at the High Commission to process a visa application are now being told that no one can see them before April 2022 at the earliest.

But while there is not enough staff at the High Commission to process applications, private placement agencies are making a lot of money on applicants who go through them to obtain a Maltese working visa.

And these agencies are placing multiple bookings with the High Commission and then selling them on at high profit margins to their clients, to get the maximum pay-out from visa applicants who can pay more to get their visa faster.

Major agencies like VFS Global and Akbartravels offer processing services for various countries’ visas, including Malta. VFS Global even claims on its website to be “the official partner of the Embassy of Malta in India”. There is no suggestion these companies are carrying out irregular practices.

In the meantime, Maltese businesses are becoming desperate as they struggle to fill vacancies and the authorities need to take immediate action to facilitate and streamline the application process for foreign workers, SMEs Chamber president Abigail Mamo has claimed.

She confirmed that workers from India where finding it very difficult to get a working visa. “India – and Pakistan too, which is served by the same embassy in India – are crucial markets for our economy because this is where we source most of the foreign employees needed to fill vacancies in Malta,” Mamo said.

“The authorities need to take immediate action now, because this situation is now much, much worse than it has ever been and many business owners are becoming desperate.”

Mamo said employers and applicants alike were also finding it difficult to navigate and understand the health regulations in place at any one time.

With global health and travel regulations changing daily as countries come to grip with the Omicron strain of COVID-19, many visa applicants are finding it difficult to fulfil all requirements established by local health authorities.

There were even cases where the status of a country changed to red while a person’s visa application was being processed. The prospective employer was told that the application was therefore denied and that the whole process had to be restarted from scratch.

But this is not so easy to do for many of the applicants. If they go directly to the High Commission, they face a wait of four months and more for their visa application to start being processed.

And if they go to a processing agency, they face hefty – often prohibitive – costs.

VFS Global does not list prices on its website but Akbartravels lists the price for a Maltese as starting from 7,899 Indian Rupees (€93) around three and a half times the average monthly salary in India, currently around 2,215 Indian Rupees (€26) per month.

The price for the visa can vary depending what services are booked through the agency. Premium options include expedited application process, one-on-one service, after-hour processing and door delivery.

Right of reply from High Commissioner to India

In response to this article, the High Commissioner of Malta to India Reuben Gauci issued a right of reply.

“It is true that the High Commission of Malta in India is currently experiencing a high influx of visa applications from holders of the Identity Malta “Approval in Principle Letter”, which letter gives the right to the holder to apply for a work visa in order to be able to proceed to Malta accordingly,” he said.

The High Commission issued a limited number of visas during the COVID-19 pandemic, and has since experienced large demand after restarting the issuance process of visas for Indian, Nepali and Bangladeshi workers.

“Needless to say, as happens in cases when demand is larger than the capacity for supply, a waiting list comes into place.”

He explained that the visa application centres are run by VFS Global, an accredited company that is assisting the High Commision with the via application process.

The company was asked to create an appointment booking system through which applicants can book their appointment time slot.

“As expected, the demand was so high that appointments were taken up fast and have moved to April 2022 and beyond.”

“Nobody wishes to wait long, but queues and waiting lists have to be respected. No institution, irrespective of the size of its staff, can cater to demands all at once.

Gauci added that the due diligence carried out on each application is arduous, “irrespective from the pressure which we may encounter from a number quarters”.

“We also have to consider the national interest as a whole, which goes beyond the demands made by private entities requesting that their esteemed foreign employees are issued with a visa in the shortest time imaginable. The rules have to be followed.”

He pointed out that he asked VFS Global to investigate any indications of bribe requests in order to skip the waiting list. He additionally asked that the Indian Police be roped in to check if there were any operatives posing as appointment agents outside the application centres.

“I wish to kindly request that the High Commission’s operations in issuing visas are respected by the general public, both Maltese and Indian, and I humbly request that everyone adhere to the appointment system so that we can be able to deal with as many requests as is physically possible”.