480 of 594 visas sold in blackmarket for Rs. 500 million, former regime officials suspected.
Italy has threatened to blacklist Sri Lanka in the job market following a scandal involving the alleged sale of 480 officially sanctioned employment visas to private individuals at a staggering Rs. 500 million or more, senior officials and industry sources said yesterday.
Sri Lanka Bureau of Foreign Employment (SLBFE) Additional General Manager Mangala Randeniya- told the Sunday Times that 594 job visas in the domestic and semi-skilled category were issued by the Italian Government last year but only 114 were documented with the regulatory authorities while the remaining had gone unaccounted for.
“The Italian government has now insisted that the authorities in Colombo should maintain a 100 per cent transparency in the handling of future job visas to that country — or face the consequence of being placed on the de-listing category along with several other countries.
“If this happens, it will be a terrible blow to future foreign employment prospects for thousands of Sri Lankan job seekers. The Government is doing everything possible to avert such a situation,” Mr. Randeniya said. “The Italian authorities have informed Colombo that the entire quota had been used but there are no official records for 480 visas and therefore a full investigation has been launched. The Criminal Investigation Department (CID) will also be called in to expedite the investigations that will centre on Foreign Employment Ministry officials and others of the former regime,” he said.
The SLBFE official said this job visa programme at that time was handled by the Foreign Employment Ministry that acted as the ‘first and last’ contact in the issuing of the visas and the bureau was not involved.
Mr. Randeniya said SLBFE Chairman Nandapala Abeywickramasooriya had visited Rome recently for talks with the authorities there. He assured them that future job recruitment of Sri Lankans to Italy would be carried out in a transparent manner.
The visas were for domestic aides, security personnel and health care workers among other — with an estimated monthly salary of Rs. 100,000 or more. An Italian entry visa on the black market costs about Rs. 1.5 million and there are many takers with the largest number being from the north and east.
Meanwhile a chief stakeholder in the foreign employment industry was also disturbed that it had been left out of the Italian job market and has said it would raise the issue soon.Association of Licensed Foreign Employment Agencies (ALFEA) President Faizer Maickeen said the irresponsibility of officials had dealt a major blow to the industry and also tarnished the image of Sri Lanka.
“The entire Italian job was carried out by the state regulatory authority – and ALFEA was left out of the process though we handle most of the recruitment for foreign jobs. We have the professional capacity unlike many officials who are political appointees with little or no knowledge of the industry mechanisms,” Mr. Maickeen said.
He added that if the issue was not resolved soon, ALFEA would complain to the police and even take legal action.
According to Mr. Maickeen, a large number of those who had bought these visas at black market rates have ended up in welfare centres run by charity groups and church movements.
By Leon Berenger