05/23/2024, 12.00
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Dhaka: thousands of migrants swindled while waiting (in vain) for visas to Italy

by Sumon Corraya

The workers have spent thousands of euro on documents, but for months they have been waiting for a clearance to leave that has not arrived. In the crosshairs the consultancy company VFS Global, which was in charge of handling the administrative paperwork. Also involved are brokers and swindlers who exploit conditions of need to do business. 

Dhaka (AsiaNews) - A visa dispute involving brokers and swindlers is raising the protests of many Bangladeshi migrant workers who, after spending thousands of euro on permits, find themselves waiting in vain for them to leave. Not least because after registering all the documentation and obtaining the permit, it takes between six and seven months for an appointment and, even then, the timeframe for completing the process remains uncertain. Meanwhile, the applicants - many of whom have Italy as their dream and final destination - remain suspended in limbo and live in inhuman conditions. 

Mohammad Apu from Naoganon is one of these victims. He received his clearance on 17 May after paying more than 10,600 euro that he scraped together by borrowing money, but he cannot leave because VFS Global after eight months has still not delivered his passport. The reference is to the global technology and outsourcing services company for governments and diplomatic missions, which handles the administrative tasks related to visa and passport issuance for its client governments.

‘In May last year,’ Apu points out to AsiaNews, ‘I paid Tk 13.5 lakh to get the permit, but I am still waiting. I go to the VFS Global office in Gulshan-1 four days a week, but the problem has not been solved. I have no money now and I live in inhuman conditions with my family.’ Rumana Akter, a 40-year-old woman from Natore, also struggled to get a passport to go to Italy. ‘I have suffered for a long time,’ she explains, ‘because our passports are being held hostage by VFS. I am facing great pressure, trapped between rising family expenses and the burden of the debt incurred’. 

According to the rules of the Italian Embassy in Bangladesh, a visa application requires an online appointment through the VFS Global website. However, the company is the subject of millions of people's complaints that appointments are not made without intermediaries and that large sums of money are being paid, leading to mismanagement. A controversy that mounted over time and ended up occupying the pages of several newspapers. 

In response, a meeting was held between the Italian ambassador and those in charge of the expatriate welfare ministry. Victims report that scammers in Italy offer false clearances, while local brokers embezzle money by promising to guarantee visa appointments. In addition, there is a shortage of service providers, which leads to extended delays that end up causing serious harm and suffering to migrant workers. To date, the passports of at least 100,000 applicants are being held by the Italian Embassy and VFS Global.

Italian Ambassador to Dhaka Antonio Alessandro pointed out that many applicants provide false information in their visa applications, which take a long time to verify. The diplomat also expressed concern that intermediaries charge excessive fees to applicants, which is ‘unacceptable’. Minister Shafiqur Rahman Chowdhury adds that the discussion with the Italian diplomat included measures to prevent harassment and abuse also because, he adds, ‘Italy is interested in hiring 700,000 workers legally’.

The duration of agricultural work in Italy is nine months. However, after receiving the nulla osta it takes six to seven months to get an appointment for a visa. The aspirants, frustrated by the vain waiting, formed a human chain in front of the Italian embassy on 27 March and 22 April. They complained that they could not get a visa appointment from the company even after obtaining work permits and spending thousands of rupees. In response, VFS Global announced that a new online appointment booking system is being developed according to the instructions provided by the embassy. 

Subir Nath, one of the many people waiting for a visa, told AsiaNews that ‘there is no way of knowing’ whether a clearance is fake or genuine before applying for a visa and ‘only the embassy can verify this’. Taking advantage of this situation, middlemen demand money for fake permits, cheating many unsuspecting people.

About 7.40 million Bangladeshi immigrants live abroad and are among the largest expatriate communities in Italy: in 2022 there were 150,692.

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