Unsuspecting Sri Lankans leaving the Colombo International Airport for the United Arab Emirates (UAE) on visit visas are been ripped off by a draconian new labour regulation that requires them to pay large fees to the authorities despite holding a return ticket.
The formerly unannounced regulation that came into effect two weeks ago has caught dozens of Gulf-bound passengers unaware, and most of them were off-loaded by determined staff from the Sri Lanka Bureau of Foreign Employment who are stationed at the Colombo airport.
The new regulation states that all passengers holding visit visas and bound for Gulf destinations will have to pay a refundable fee as insurance to the Bureau. Failing to do so means they will be turned away from the airport, Labour officials with the Diplomatic Mission in the UAE said.
They say this was largely due to the fact that the bulk of those leaving on visit visas, are actually job hunters who do not return to the country for a considerable period of time. These visit visa holders on landing in the UAE secure employment but must leave the country and re-enter on their sponsor’s work visa. To do this they do not have to go back to Sri Lanka. Most of them leave for neighbouring Iran and return to Dubai where their work visas are then endorsed. Employment on visit visas is a punishable offence in the Emirates.
However the regulation is also confusing since it does not state the exact fee. According to officials the fee will be charged according to the category of those leaving. For example housemaids and other low-income wage earners will be charged less while executives much more.
However, the honest traveller will also be caught up with this regulation, the officials admit, while adding that the Bureau officials will have to use their own discretion when selecting those who have to pay the fee. However another saddening issue is that the low-cost budget airline Mihin Lanka has also cashed into the misery of the travellers.
Since the regulation came into force dozens of persons booked on Mihin Lanka and who were unable to pay the fee and subsequently off-loaded at Colombo had to forfeit their tickets as well. Mihin Lanka does not refund the value of tickets if the passenger does not make it on the scheduled flight. Enraged passengers claim that the airline never informed them about this regulation and as a result they were taken unawares at the airport. They were not only forced to pay the fee, but also had to purchase a fresh ticket. A single journey ticket on Mihin Lanka, Colombo-Dubai sector costs AED 600 (SL Rs. 17,000).
A Trico International spokesperson in Dubai which handles the bulk of the ticketing for Mihin Lanka told The Sunday Times that this was most unfortunate, but said it was up to the Colombo office to give prior notice to the passengers.“If this was not been done in Colombo, then there is very little we can do over here,” he said.