Don’t get all shocked when Sri Lanka customs authorities heighten the customs clearance process for Maldivian passengers arriving at Bandaranaike International Airport!
Last November, Maldivians visiting Sri Lanka were taken by surprise when Sri Lankan authorities raised strict measures in screening Maldivian passengers specifically during customs clearance process at the airport. Some passengers told local media that Sri Lanka customs authorities held as much as over 150 Maldivian passengers during a particular flight that arrived Colombo, every belonging they had with them were thoroughly searched while seizing certain food items such as instant noodles cases, while customs officials informed passengers that noodles were available food items in Sri Lanka. Passengers were questioned about the amount of money they carried, and about their accommodation arrangements and purpose of travel to Sri Lanka. The following week Sri Lankan police said many Maldivians visiting Sri Lanka were unemployed, but were bringing in large amounts of money, and these checks were done to to see if they had connections with drug cartels and criminal organizations. The situation turned well after both governments held talks, and the same leniency that Sri Lanka customs authorities previously provided to Maldivian passengers were again provided.
The government talks didn’t conclude Maldivian nationals entering Sri Lanka on student visa and tourist visa permitting employment or engaging in business activities. A couple of days back, I came across and joined a Facebook group called Maldivian Student Association – Sri Lanka, because I was a student in Sri Lanka from 1993 to 2007 and was a founder member of the said association, I was taken by surprise because there was no student related activities or information posted in recent months, it was more of a guide for Maldivian students to search boarding homes, a place for brokers, real estate agents and apartment owners to post and advertise accommodation for short-term and long-term Maldivians visiting Sri Lanka. The most interesting were by Maldivian students posting ads to sell cigarettes, supari, dry fish and more.
While Sri Lanka Immigration provides student visa for Maldivian applicants on grounds of being a bona fide student intending to temporarily enter Sri Lanka solely for the purpose of enrolling as a part-time or full-time student at an established school or academic institution, and for Maldivian visitors entering Sri Lanka with a thirty-day free tourist visa issued on arrival excluding employment or business activities on both visa types, many Maldivians continue engaging in such activities, disregarding Sri Lankan laws and abusing visa regulations. Whilst so much leniency is given for Maldivians based on the diplomatic relations with Sri Lanka, these types activities could potentially result in Sri Lankan government taking away many of the privileges that a lot of Maldivians genuinely enjoyed in Sri Lanka as tourists and as students.