Thousands overstaying visas, crackdown launched

By Leon Berenger

Just six weeks before a new electronic visa system comes into effect, the government has launched a countrywide crackdown on visa overstayers.“We are now using special units to track down those over staying their visas,” Immigration and Emigration Controller Chulananda Perera told the Sunday Times.

He said more than a thousand people, largely Indian and other South Asians, have been deported so far. Other overstayers included people from European and former Soviet bloc countries.

“Most of these people were found to be actively involved in trade and other activities, not in conformity with the visa status. In most cases, they were supported and even provided safe haven by locals,” the Controller said..

He warned business establishments, both big and small, against recruiting such illegal overstayers saying they could face stiff fines and other penalties. “In many cases it has been established that even reputed firms had employed such people as cheap labour hands.”

Local employers should obtain the proper visas for these foreign workers without delay. Legal action would be taken against those failing to do so, Mr. Perera said. He said some of the overstayers had remained in the country for the past three decades. Many had entered the country through the Bandaranayake International Airport (BIA) and others had come from across the Palk Strait.

“We are yet to estimate the exact number of foreigners living illegally in this country, but it is believed to be in the thousands. These people had an easy run in the past due to the bloody ethnic war, but things are going to change,” Mr. Perera said.

In the latest detection made a few days ago, six Indians who had over stayed their visas were rounded up from Kattankudi. They had been actively involved in trade with the full protection of the locals in the area, Mr. Perera said.

Any information on foreigners living or working illegally in the country could be conveyed to the authorities on telephone numbers 5329000, 5329380 or 5329400.

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