Indian nationals often pay thousands of euros in agency fees to work in Malta only to find that the job promised to them does not exist, an NGO for Indians in Malta has claimed.

And if they want to stay in the country legally, they have to pay income tax through the agency despite earning no income.

The agencies then provide payslips to the Maltese government to “prove” these people are “working” in Malta.

“It’s kind of a mafia,” said Sanjolucy Leela, president of the Malta Malayalee Association.

Sanjolucy Leela, president of the Malta Malayalee Association, and its vice-president, Jeejo Jose Chowallur, talk to Times of Malta. Video: Karl Andrew Micallef.

Since the beginning of last year, the association has helped 50 individuals who feel they have been exploited in this way, the association’s vice-president Jeejo Jose Chowallur said.

The association started off as a cultural group and still organises community activities for people from the Indian state of Kerala. But of late, much of their work has been focused on employment issues.

Leela and Chowallur spoke to Times of Malta about the situation many of their compatriots face when trying to work in Malta.

“To get to Malta directly without an agent costs less than €1,000,” Leela said. “But to go through an agency, it can go up to €4,000 and in certain cases €10,000.” Most job offers are made through the agencies, she said.

“Before, it used to be easy to find a direct employer but nowadays, it is once in a blue moon that you will see a direct employment happening.”

Three or four agencies in Malta and India can be involved in the process. 

But even after paying thousands, many Indian nationals find themselves here without a job. 

Once in a blue moon you will see a direct employment happening

“The job they’ve been offered does not exist,” Leela said. 

She explained that the temping, or “manpower” agency that has arranged their passage to Malta is listed as their employer on their Maltese residence card.

But the day after they arrive, they are told they have no job. Yet, they are asked to pay tax and social security through the agency if they wish to remain in Malta legally, despite not being paid a salary.

“Manpower agencies ask them to pay €180 (per month) or something like that for tax and social security to legally maintain their ID card,” Chowallur said.

In the meantime, they look for another job and often spend three months or more paying taxes until they find one. They then apply to Identity Malta to change their employer.

Because their payslips and tax records show they have been in a job, no questions are asked.

Under the law, third-country nationals who have no employment only have 10 days to find another job or they would have to leave the country. 

“There won’t be any questions if they have been paying tax and social security,” Leela said.

The agencies just want the money

She said manpower agencies often bring more people to Malta than the number of vacancies on offer – for a hundred vacancies, an agency might bring 150 or 200 people. 

“The agencies just want the money, so instead of one person, they bring two people and get double the money.”

The problem has worsened after the COVID-19 pandemic and is especially common among unskilled workers, the two said. 

Unskilled labourers “are the ones who are suffering a lot” while nurses, drivers or electricians, for example, do not usually face these issues. 

Most are afraid of the agencies and afraid to speak up. “They are threatened,” Chowallur said.

“The manpower agencies will tell them: ‘If you say something your job is done and you can go back to India,’” Leela added. 

When the association is first contacted, it tries to mediate between the agent and the employee, such as by asking for compensation, and sometimes succeeds.

If not, the association forwards the concerns to the Indian High Commission in Malta and to the Maltese authorities. 

Increase in non-EU workers

The number of non-EU workers in Malta has increased tenfold in a decade. In 2011, fewer than 5,000 foreign nationals from outside the EU were working in Malta. The number increased to some 60,000 by August 2022. 

Many of those workers come from India. According to Jobsplus data, some 11,000 Indians were working in Malta in December 2022, the most populous third-country national group. 

Leela and Chowallur appealed to their compatriots to do their homework before coming to Malta. 

“Collect all the information. Prevention is better than cure,” Leela said. “Once you’re here, get to know all the rights you have.”

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