A businessman who sees prospective workers “put their life on hold” for over a year as they wait for permit paperwork has called out the “inhumane delays” people face when applying for visas.

Alex Scicluna, director of the Jubilee Group of Companies, said he wanted to speak up after months of “going around in circles” from one authority to another, unable to fill vacancies at his catering outlets, with his current staff shouldering the burden of an increased workload.

Last month, Times of Malta reported how third-country nationals were resorting to paying recruitment agencies thousands of euros to get a ‘fast-tracked’ permit for which Identity Malta charges just €280.50.

Expat community leaders said they noticed that the increase in the number of people resorting to such agencies coincided with reported delays for ‘regular’ applications at Identity Malta.

From its end, Identity Malta insisted the average processing time for an application stood at between eight and 10 weeks, which it deems well within the four-month processing time stipulated by EU Directive 2011/98/EU.

Almost nine months of waiting

But data provided by Scicluna for applications submitted over the past couple of years show that, despite an approval in principle (not a work permit) being issued within a few weeks, the process leading to the issuing of a visa – a necessary requirement to live and work in Malta – could take up to eight-and-a-half months.

Only in two out of six cases was the visa issued in under five months and, in both cases, the prospective employees did not have to go through consular services abroad.

Interestingly, when Scicluna’s company tried recruiting employees through an agency, the whole process took between two and two-and-a-half months in five out of seven cases.

“But, apart from these excessive delays in issuing visas and, eventually, a work permit, we have four applications that have been over a year in the process of being decided,” he said.

It’s about time authorities realise that behind every application there is a human being, not a chair

“In three instances, the process started at the beginning of October 2021, while the Identity Malta application for the fourth one was submitted in January.

“Following the issuing of an approval in principle (AIP) and a visa interview five months later, we received refusal letters for all four in May. We appealed in June and, when we enquired about the hearing, we were told the appeal is done behind closed doors, meaning we – the employers – cannot make our case verbally.

“We are still waiting for a decision and, in the meantime, these people have put their lives on hold in the hope of getting a working permit to start a new life in Malta.

“It’s about time authorities realise that behind every application there is a human being, not a chair. We’re experiencing such delays even when applying for people who were already living and working in Malta pre-COVID and then got caught up in India because of the pandemic.”

Why were they refused?

Third-country nationals issued with an AIP have 180 days to get a visa.

When Scicluna alerted ID Malta’s visa unit about long delays to set up a visa appointment, he was assured that if a visa appointment is set up before the 180 days were up, the application would still be processed.

However, despite being granted a visa interview just before the 180 days were up, Scicluna was informed that three of his four applications were being refused a visa as their AIP had expired.

“When I informed the High Commission for India about Identity Malta’s assurances, I was told their hands were ‘tied by regulations’,” he said.

In one other case, Scicluna was informed that the authorities feared the person would leave the island before the visa expired.

Identity Malta takes months to process work permits. Meanwhile, applicants' lives are on hold. Photo: Matthew MirabelliIdentity Malta takes months to process work permits. Meanwhile, applicants' lives are on hold. Photo: Matthew Mirabelli

“I am not saying that all applications should be approved or that security issues should be overlooked but this whole process – whether approval or refusal – should not take months on end.

The process is so long that one of Scicluna’s prospective employees has, since the appeal was filed, found a job elsewhere and moved with his family there.

Why third-country nationals?

The company resorts to foreign employees because local skilled workers, like chefs, are difficult to come by.

“We look for people outside of Malta, hold interviews, do the necessary due diligence and then apply for a work permit at Identity Malta. We do not charge them anything above the €280.50,” Scicluna said.

“We also provide the authorities with an address for lodgings where our prospective employees, once they arrive in Malta, can reside until they find their own accommodation.

“We have had to, at times, resort to recruiting people through agencies, which, unlike us, apply for work permits for a number of third-country nationals that are not linked to particular vacancies, impoverishing them in the process.

“Once these people are in Malta, the agencies then link them up with current vacancies. It seems like the process for agencies is much quicker than it is for the rest of us,” Scicluna added.

“It is absurd that, in cases like ours, applications linked to a specific vacancy are refused while applications for possibly non-existent jobs – such as in the case of some recruitment agencies – are greenlighted.”

Scicluna explained that, once his company selects a person for a particular vacancy, that post is reserved for them.

If the system is not working, well then change it, so clients are truly provided a service in a timely fashion

“The prospective employees, meanwhile, also have their lives at a standstill. If they are already working in their home country, most often they hand in a resignation letter once they receive an AIP… and then are left jobless for months on end. And the plans for some who suspend their lives for months are eventually shattered with a refusal letter.”

Queues outside Identity Malta offices in February 2020. Photo: Chris Sant FournierQueues outside Identity Malta offices in February 2020. Photo: Chris Sant Fournier

Scicluna insists he is not asking anyone for any favours.

“However, if the system is not working well, whether because it is bureaucratic, shortage of human resources or any other reason, then change it so that clients are truly provided a service in a timely fashion, as promised.

“This would benefit everyone.”

When asked whether it was aware of delays and whether it was taking any action, ID Malta said third-country nationals from visa-exempt countries can travel to Malta as soon as they receive their AIP letter.

Applicants from countries that require a visa to enter Malta may apply at their respective Malta embassies and consulates.

Foreign employee recruitment could be facilitated if they either come from EU countries or visa-exempt countries, a spokesperson added.

The foreign affairs ministry is in charge of visa processing and ID Malta has been assisting Maltese embassies with visa processing over the last few months, they added.

Questions have been sent to the ministry.

How does it work?

Step 1: Apply with Identity Malta for a residential permit with the purpose of employment in Malta for a fee of €280.50.

Step 2: Receive an Approval in Principle letter.

Step 3: Apply for a visa appointment in the candidate’s home country. If there are no Malta embassies or high commissions in the home country, documentation can be sent to Malta via a courier for processing.

Step 4: Hand in a work contract, passport and other documentation and residency contract among others.

Step 5a: If a visa is issued, the candidate has three months to acquire a work permit from Jobsplus while in Malta.

Step 5b: If a visa is refused, they can appeal the decision.

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