Updated 9.30am with Identity Malta's reaction

Maxson Jose Joseph will celebrate his first birthday next week but he never met his three-year-old sister Miya. Their parents, Indian nurses working in Malta, could not travel to India to bring her home due to delays in issuing the necessary documentation.

The couple, Jose Joseph and his wife Jossy, had to reluctantly take Miya to live with her grandparents in India until Maxson was born due to difficulties during the pregnancy. But delays by Identity Malta in issuing residence permits meant they could not go for their daughter after the birth, as planned.

“We have not seen our daughter for 18 months now. We speak to her every day. It breaks my wife’s heart when she hears our daughter call her aunt ‘mummy’.

Because of delays in issuing residence permits I’ve missed my sister’s wedding and I could not travel to India for my grandmother’s funeral,” says Jose, a nurse at Mater Dei who will be leaving Malta, with his entire family, to work with the UK’s NHS within a few months.

It breaks my wife’s heart when she hears our daughter call her aunt ‘mummy’

This “lack of family sensitivity” is the main reason why Jose and Jossy, like dozens of other foreign nurses living in Malta, have decided to leave the island for a job in the UK – where the family can finally be reunited without facing unnecessary bureaucracy and heartache.

'It is not about the money'

“Family life is very difficult for us here. Nurses are not leaving because of money. I am happy with my salary. This is not about money. Malta is our home.

"I feel comfortable here as the people are so friendly. But, especially in this coronavirus season, we are under a lot of psychological stress. We are human and we want to see our families and be able to travel home. But we are stuck,” he says.

Last month Times of Malta reported that Malta is bracing itself for an exodus of foreign nurses – mostly Indian, Pakistani and Filipino – who are being poached by the UK as part of its efforts to control its spiralling COVID-19 situation.

Around 140 nurses have either already resigned or are in the process of submitting their resignation – that is around 22 per cent of the estimated 600 third-country national nurses who work in Malta.

I know many friends who prefer Malta to live but who are going to the UK because it is easier to get your documents there

Malta Union of Midwives and Nurses president, Paul Pace, said the union was “very concerned” that the current long-lasting shortage of nurses will worsen overnight. Following the publication of the article, over 200 nurses wrote to the union – spurring the union to write an open letter to the prime minister relaying their concerns.

These included: family reunification with spouses not being able to join in Malta; delays in issuing of residence permits; demanding and expensive requirements to the annual renewal of work permits that add up to over €400 a year (€280 fee to Identity Malta and mandatory private blood tests and X-rays).

If a third-country national leaves Malta before his/her identity documents are processed, they have to start the whole procedure again.

Family bought Fgura apartment

Meanwhile, the UK offers third-country national nurses a residence permit for three years, which is issued within three weeks from the day the application is submitted.

These are the reasons that pushed Jose and his family away from the country they love.

Jose moved to Malta from Italy, where he lived with his wife Jossy. His wife and their daughter Miya joined him in Malta later – when he got a job at Mater Dei under an indefinite contract. The family settled down in Malta and bought an apartment in Fgura.

All was fine but things got complicated when Jossy, who meanwhile found a job in a home for the elderly, got pregnant with their second child. She suffered from a condition whereby she was unwell throughout the pregnancy and struggled to take care of Miya so she had to stop working.

As Jose could not stop working, they had to send Miya to India, after a request to bring Jose’s mother to Malta for a few months was turned down.

Meanwhile Jose got an opportunity to work with the UK NHS where he is offered a family permit. Within a few months the family will travel to India to pick up Miya and visit relatives before moving to the UK.

Ajay Tomy and his wife Bibina Merin Baby with their son Alexander Thomas.Ajay Tomy and his wife Bibina Merin Baby with their son Alexander Thomas.

'Mum scared she'll die before seeing grandson'

Just like him Indian Ajay Tomy and his wife Bibina Merin Baby – both nurses – came to Malta in 2017 and initially worked for a private contractor before getting employed at Mount Carmel Hospital last year with an indefinite contract.

Their son, Alexander Thomas, was born in December 2019. That was when they started feeling “trapped in Malta” as their son did not yet have a residence permit which they applied for a year ago.

“A year ago my mum underwent brain surgery. We have not been able to travel back to India since he was born. My mum fears that she will die without meeting her grandson,” Tomy says.

He and his wife are currently reading for their master’s degree in Malta. “Because of this we don’t have plans to leave. But, had I known before coming here about all these issues, we would have opted for another country,” he said.

Another nurse from India, who preferred not to be named, said it was the  problems relating to procuring identity documents in Malta, that made countries like the UK and Ireland so much more appealing to work.

“I actually love living and working here, and I know many others who do too, but every year we need to renew our documents and we don’t know how long it will take. For my daughter it took two months, and for my friend’s daughter, one year,” he said.

“And if you call Identity Malta or send them an e-mail asking when you are going to receive your documents all they tell you is they are being processed. I know many friends who prefer Malta to live but who are going to the UK because it is easier to get your documents there.”

Average processing time is six to eight weeks - Identity Malta

According to a spokesperson for Identity Malta, in "normal circumstances", the issuance of a single permit takes up to two months.

“Where the need for additional security checks or verifications on the applicant’s suitability does not arise by either Identity Malta or its stakeholders involved in the process, the average processing time for a single permit takes between six to eight weeks,” the spokesperson said.

He added that the average processing time fell well within the four months’ timeframe stipulated by the EU, adding that the process for single permit applications has been further facilitated through an electronic platform that enables digital submissions.

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