Hospitality: The minimum qualification and cooling off period for expatriates that the revised immigration rules mandate will only worsen the existing labour issues that hotels in the country face, say hoteliers.

Representatives from hotels in the country yesterday met to discuss the implications of the revised rule at the Hotel and Restaurant Association of Bhutan (HRAB) office more than a week after the revised rules came into effect.

The hoteliers have requested HRAB to raise the issue with the agencies concerned.

The revised rule states that foreigners willing to work in the capacity of any professional category in the country requires a minimum qualification of a bachelor’s degree with at least three years experience. Besides, the work permit application for employment in professional category should be supported by relevant notarized qualification certificate and a minimum of bachelor’s degree with at least three years experience in the relevant field.

The rule also states that foreign individuals on immigration permit either on short-term visit or long term work or studies shall not be eligible for an immigration card.

He or she shall exit the country for six months and re-enter to apply for immigration card. Unless otherwise specified under the relevant sections of this rules, all foreign workers shall remain outside the country for at least six months after completion of three years stay in the country without taking into consideration the 15 days period and change of employer.

Hoteliers said that the immigration department should not implement a blanket rule for all irrespective of the sector. In the hospitality industry, they said, industrial exposure was more important than one’s qualification.

A human resource training manager with one of the hotels, Karma Chuki Dorji said the requirement of a bachelors degree is a problem for all hotels that has to bring in expatriate workers.

She said it is difficult to bring in people with both industrial exposure and qualification. “For the hospitality sector, education is secondary and experience is a must,” she said. “I hope the concerned agencies will reconsider it.”

Another hotelier said that the blanket rule was like punishing the whole industry for the mistake of a few others.

The six-month cooling period, according to hoteliers was reduced to a month two years ago as it led to a lot of issues. Now that it’s increased in the revised rules, hoteliers said the issue is back to square one.

After completing three years, if the expatriates have to leave for six-months, hoteliers said that they would either have to find replacement or keep them on pay roll.

“One month was sensible and convenient,” another hotelier said, adding that six months is a long period.

Hoteliers said that expatriates take about one to two years to adjust to the new environment and the system. If they have to leave for six months after three years, it would only lead to more issues.

A human resource manager with a hotel in Thimphu Sonam Wangchuk said that as a fairly new industry, such regulation is a challenge for the hospitality sector.

Citing cases of waiters or attendants becoming general managers owing to their capability although they may not hold degree certificates, he said the requirement criterion should be left to the hotels.

“The hospitality industry can’t be generalized with other industries,” he said.

Immigration’s director general Thinlay Wangchuk said that when expatriates without the required qualification get the opportunity to work in Bhutan, it affects those who are unemployed. “The qualification requirement is in the interest of the country,” he said.

The six-month cooling period, Thinlay Wangchuk said is to prevent fronting and undesirable activities. “If they are genuinely employed in Bhutan, there should not be an problem in staying out for six months,” he said.

As of December 16, records with immigration show that there are 48,299 foreign workers in the country of which 1,781 individuals are under professional category in the field of managers, engineers, doctors and different technical specialists.

Of the total expatriate workers, 37,653 are plumbers, electricians, painters, drivers and masons among others. The remaining 8,865 expatriate workers include hospital staff, cooks, accountants and other assistant labourers.

Kinga Dema