December 15 was `D Day` for most Sri Lankans living in Italy, Sri Lanka and elsewhere, who had always dreamt of working in Italy. The Italian government, having considered the representations made by the Embassy for Sri Lanka in Italy, increased the quota of jobs for Sri Lanka to 3,500. The immigration authorities also made some changes in the application format. Last year, the applications were received from Sri Lankans and their sponsors at the Post Offices in Italy where thousands queued up in the bitter cold days before the appointed date.
This year, in order to avoid scenes outside post offices, the Italian government decided to accept applications through the internet. The website is in Italian and the applications were to be tendered by Italian sponsors, who had declared a minimum income of 800 Euros a month. This was a clear indication that Sri Lankans living outside Italy had little or no chance of applying for these visas. Sri Lanka`s Ambassador Hemantha Warnakulasuriya forewarned Sri Lankans not to get duped by crafty job agents, who are supposedly charging astronomical fees from gullible people on the pretext of obtaining job permits under this scheme.
When the day arrived, some Sri Lankans, who had no computers, booked computers at internet cafés and had only to click the button to send the application forms to the main server at the Italian Immigration Department. There was panic as the host computers simple refused to accept the forms of many Sri Lankans. Some Sri Lankan Tamils had no problem at all in submitting their applications in time. The Bangaldeshi or other nationalities had no difficulty in sending the forms. The Sri Lankans who had failed to register their applications were of the view that there was some conspiracy against them. Even the Ambassador`s private telephone was inundated with complaints from Sri Lankans. Though it was Saturday, the Embassy in Italy contacted the authorities who could not at that time give any reason for the breakdown.
It was only on the subsequent Monday that it was revealed by Mr. Maurizio Bove, the Immigration officer in Charge of processing the applications, that the reason for the computer rejecting the applications was due to the unusual length of some Sri Lankan names. It had caused even the very sophisticated software programmes and the computers of the department, which were geared to handle even a million applications of this nature, to break down. The immigration authorities are now in the process of developing new a software programme to accommodate long Sri Lankan names. The spokesman from the Immigration authorities said that all Sri Lankan applications, whether the applicants are Sinhalese or Tamils, will be processed and the first 3,500 applications which are in the correct format and conform with the income range and other criteria of the Italian sponsor, will be accepted by the Immigration Department.