In a recent amendment to the Immigration Act, the Maldives government has introduced a new type of visa called the Corporate Resident Visa.

According to the new legislative intervention, an overseas national may now be able to obtain a total of ten types of visa to enter and remain in the Maldives.

Out of the many, we will focus here on the corporate resident visa.

The corporate resident

The corporate resident visa is granted to overseas nationals involved in a foreign direct investment registered in the Maldives. The visa is specific to shareholders, directors, partners and senior officers of the investment who have a reason to remain in the Maldives for a longer term with a view to managing that investment activity. The benefit is extended to family members as well.

It is our view that the “senior officers” of the investment may likely include persons in positions of management, direction and control of the investment activity like the general manager, resident manager, chief financial officer and the like.

According to the law, the eligibility criteria may be met in either of the two ways:

  • Being agreeable to deposit at least a sum of US$250,000 in a fixed deposit in a local bank for 5 years or more; or
  • Have invested at least US$250,000 in a business acceptable to / determined by the government.

It needs to be clarified that the requirement of monetary investment is not tied to the visa applicant per se, but the investment in which the applicant is involved in, attached to, or is part of.

No mention of resorts

The law does not specifically mention resorts or investments in the tourism sector as an eligible category by itself.

It simply provides a minimum investment threshold and the requirement of government approval for that investment activity to be an eligible investment.

It is safe to assume that the investment threshold provided in the law (which is a mere US$250,000.00) makes it obvious that resorts and other large tourism or integrated tourism investments would fall within the ambit of the new visa regime on the straightforward basis that the larger would naturally include the smaller.

Registrar’s guidance

Much depends on the guidance of the Registrar of Businesses on the matter as the law sets out significant functions for the Registrar to confirm the eligibility of the investment and also approve specific applicants.

It is the Registrar who would decide if a business comes within an acceptable investment, trade, or business activity to be allowed the basis to submit for a visa application for one of its owners or officers. It is again the Registrar who would decide to approve (or disapprove) an application of a specific applicant.

Of course, the law requires her to create regulations to provide that guidance.

Registrar v Controller

It is clear from the law that once the Registrar okays a business as an acceptable business or an applicant as an approved applicant, the Immigration Controller is to put no additional condition or fee on the visa but simply to allow the grant of the visa.

However, it may not be so automatic as it seems by the first appearance.

Even if the Immigration Controller may not be able to put new conditions on a corporate resident visa, the prerogative of the Controller to deny a visa application very much remains intact. In other words, the power of the Controller to deny a visa remains unaffected by the specific role given to the Registrar in this new regime.

This means that while the Registrar may decide to green signal a business, or even okay an application, the Controller may still withhold or deny the visa based on grounds more peculiar to the applicant or his/her association.

The grounds that may be employed by the Controller are provided in the law and are captured in section 8 of the Immigration Act. They relate largely to the protection and preservation of public health, religious harmony or national security of the country.

According to the law, one who could pose a public health risk will not be allowed a visa. One who is absconding from the administration of justice in another jurisdiction, or is actively involved in or plans to involve in acts detrimental to the country’s religious harmony, or is connected to or involved in a terrorist organization, or who could endanger the national security of the country are grounds on which the Controller could deny a visa.

Therefore, even if in the unlikely scenario a person falling within those grounds may somehow be involved in an approved business and the Registrar may have unknowingly okayed the person for a visa, the Controller may still deny the visa if “special factors” come to the attention.

Where an entry or visa is denied to a specific applicant, the ban is equally extended to the spouse, off springs, and others linked to the applicant.

It is interesting to note that, in addition to the grounds provided by law, the Controller can actually create new grounds (i) if they are materially similar to the grounds provided in the law or (ii) would aid enhance (and prevent the defeat of) goal to be achieved by prescribing those grounds in the law in the first place.

Regulations to come

The Registrar is to create and enforce regulations to give greater clarity to the scope of the new visa, and actually propel the new regime.

It is certain that there will be greater definition around the term “government approved businesses” once the regulations are published.

Depositing the threshold amount in an FD at a locally operated bank is a pretty clear cut criterion to claim a corporate resident visa to remain in the Maldives.

The more interesting category would be the other category that the law speaks of – that which determines acceptable business activities that could use the corporate resident visa regime.

One likely candidate to qualify as an acceptable investment category may be the foreign investments registered with the Ministry of Economic Development after signing a foreign investment agreement with the government. It is also likely that additional qualification criteria may be imposed on them as to extent of local payroll employed by the investment activity or its average turnover.

Another likely candidate may be an investment in government preferred economic ventures – one that aligns with government’s economic development plan. Investments in the Maldives Fund Management Company or the SME Development Bank may not be ruled out as potential investment activities that could help in the grant of a corporate resident visa.

The government may additionally approve certain classes of privately owned and privately held businesses as approved investments. It is likely that overseas investments in tourism sector would potentially fall within this classification.

Candidate specific conditions

In addition to an investment falling within an approved class of investment, it is quite probable that the regulations may prescribe conditions or qualifications specific to an applicant asking for a corporate resident visa as a representative of the approved investment.

Not being convicted of corruption, money laundering, human trafficking offenses; not being involved in either the investigation or prosecution of a crime; not being subjected to previous deportation from the Maldives may be pretty likely conditions to appear as qualifications.

Visa, how issued

It is understood that the corporate resident visa would be generally given for 5 years, and would be renewable every five years, unless revoked earlier.

The guidance on extension, renewal or revocation is expected in the Registrar’s regulations.

According to the prevailing pattern of thought, the initial point of contact for the corporate resident visa application would be the Ministry of Economic Development. It is likely that the ministry may have a dedicated set up for this regime.

Once approved for issuance of a visa, the visa would finally be granted by the Immigration Controller. However, as indicated above, the Controller may still deny a visa on grounds explained earlier.

 

By MN

Photo: Courtesy Mihaaru