Maldives is primarily a destination country for migrants, particularly from other countries in the subregion, with relatively high wages being the main pull factor. The number of foreign workers in Maldives has increased rapidly in recent years and even expanded in 2005, right after the tsunami (figure 1). In 2009, there were 70,259 registered migrant workers in the Maldives, compared to 110,231 employed nationals (Maldives Department of National Planning 2010).

In 2009, more than half the 70,259 registered migrant workers were from Bangladesh. Significant numbers were also from India and Sri Lanka (see figure 2). Notably, based on recent estimates, the number of foreign workers is considerably higher when taking into account irregular migrants.

Employment for these workers is principally in low-skilled and semi-skilled jobs in the construction, tourism, and community services sectors (Maldives Department of National Planning 2010). Due to rapid economic growth and comparatively slower growth in education training institutions, a skills shortage is evident among the local population. The construction and tourism sectors are dependent on the migrant labour force to fill the employment gaps. In 2009, the construction sector and the tourism sector employed 41 per cent and 16 per cent of the migrant workers, respectively. Employment per sector varies between nationalities of migrant workers. The majority (54 per cent) of migrant workers from Bangladesh were employed in the construction industry while migrant workers from India were more equally distributed among sectors, with 29 per cent employed in construction, 20 per cent in community and social services and 12 per cent in tourism. Sri Lankan workers are mainly employed in tourism (32 per cent) and construction (17 per cent) (Maldives Department of National Planning 2010).

The gender makeup of migrant workers between sectors differs significantly. Women comprised only 8 per cent of the registered migrant workers in Maldives in 2009 but totalled 38 per cent of migrants working in the education and community, social and personal services sectors. Meanwhile, during that time, no migrant women were employed in the construction sector (Maldives Department of National Planning 2010).

As English is increasingly being used as the language of instruction in government schools, demand for English-speaking teachers is high. In 2009, some 36 per cent of teachers in secondary schools were foreign (Maldives Ministry of Education 2010). The majority of foreign teachers in the Maldives are from India. Also of note, statistics provided by the Ministry of National Planning in 2010 shows that all expatriate teachers had received formal training, while about 30 per cent of the local teachers had not received formal training to be teachers (Maldives Department of National Planning 2010).