The licensed foreign employment sector yesterday distanced itself from the human trafficking scam carried out with visit visas saying that those recruited by them were documented in Sri Lanka and in the recipient country, a spokesman for the industry said yesterday.
President of the Association for Licensed Foreign Employment Agencies (ALFEA) Farouk Marrikar told the Sunday Observer, “The licensed foreign employment agencies, numbering over 1,000 throughout the country, always remain alert on those who are recruited by them leaving little or no chance for human trafficking.
Those leaving the country through our agents are registered in the country and the Sri Lankan missions overseas particularly in countries where visit visas are permitted.
He said that every person recruited by an ALFEA agent is uploaded on the Sri Lanka Foreign Employment Bureau (SLFEB) system and copied to the Sri Lankan mission in the relevant foreign country.
According to the agreement reached between the worker and the foreign recruiting agent, a visit visa job seeker has to be provided with food and accommodation for one month until an employment placement could be made.
A visit visa is provided for one month from the day of arrival in the country and it could be extended for a maximum of 15 days thereafter, he said.
He said that if the foreign recruiting agent is unable to find an employment placement within this period then he/she should provide the visit visa holder with a return ticket to the country along with a month’s salary.
“This is how the procedure works with ALFEA agents and so the chances of human trafficking are near zero.”
However, he conceded that there may be a few unscrupulous licensed agents involved in the scam either directly or indirectly but if detected they risk losing their operational licence and would be blacklisted,” Marrikar said.
He said at present only Doha and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) allow visit visa holders into their countries but a large number of people have found clandestine routes to land in other Gulf capitals.
“It is a complex issue and it is encouraging to see that the authorities including the Labour Ministry and the SLEFB are addressing the matter at the highest level,” he said.
For their part, the labour authorities recently commissioned a Safe Migration Bureau to screen visit visa holders seeking to leave the country.
The unit is operational on a 24-hour basis and manned by police and State intelligence operatives along with personnel from the Immigration and Emigration Department and the SLFEB.
Since this unit was commissioned earlier this month, it has screened hundreds of visit visa holders’ seeking to leave the country and many have been stopped due to questionable reasons for travel as claimed by them, a senior official of the SLFEB said.
Diplomatic notes from Colombo’s missions in several Gulf nations have warned of the rising influx of Sri Lankan visit visa holders in those countries and that a large number of people remain unemployed forcing many to become sex workers while others get involved in petty crime and are in prisons.