While Malaysia continues to maintain its moratorium on receiving any further foreign workers, the country is attempting to regularise the status of those already within the country’s borders. Malaysia announced it will be working with countries of origin to grant five-year visas to eligible workers.
Undocumented foreign workers sit while waiting for verifications during an immigration raid outside Kuala Lumpur on September 1, 2013. Photo: AFP
U Sein Oo, a director general within the Foreign Affairs Ministry, confirmed the plan.
“Yes, the program is true,” he said. “We have already replied to the Malaysian government with information and comments from the Ministry of Labour.”
Malaysia announced its Rehiring and Allocation Integration Programme last month. The scheme will grant visas to workers in three categories: those whose passport has expired, those whose work permit has expired, and those who are undocumented but have held a valid job within the country for the last six months. Domestic workers are not eligible.
U Thein Win, a senior official from the migrant affairs department of the labour ministry, said Myanmar is happy to cooperate with the new scheme, but added that it will only work if the ministry grants approval certificates to Myanmar citizens first.
“We will not be certifying those who are not Myanmar citizens even if the Malaysian government issues work permits to them,” he said.
Malaysia harbours a large population of Muslim Rohingya asylum seekersfrom Rakhine State – who are officially called Bengalis by the Myanmar government, and largely denied citizenship rights. Rights groups estimate around 52,000 Rohingya are registered with the UN in Malaysia, while many thousand more are anticipated to be living undocumented. Their status means their children cannot go to government schools, and they cannot legally find work, although the UN Refugee Agency has pushed the Malaysian government to grant work permits.
According to the UNHCR, another 91,000 asylum seekers registered in Malaysia are from Myanmar.
Malaysia is also a magnet for migrant workers, though thousands of Myanmar labourers who were smuggled abroad have languished for months and even years in detention centres after crackdowns on undocumented foreigners.
According to the Myanmar embassy in Kuala Lumpur, undocumented Myanmar workers who want to apply for a Malaysian work permit cannot be holders of a UNHCR card. They also cannot have criminal records, and must pass a health screening test.
The fees for the new scheme are pricey. A work permit will run the worker 10000 ringgit (US$2400), whiile they will also be charged a 300 ringgit ($73) fine for any illegal stay in Malaysia and a 190 riggit ($46) fee for the medical check-up. The worker must bear the costs of the fine and the check-up but the permit can be paid for by the employer.
Ko Wanna, a worker from Malaysia, said he welcomed the program but added that the high cost could be a barrier to workers whose employers are not willing to front the fees.
“It’s still better that there is an option being opened for the workers to stay here legally,” he said.
Last month, Malaysia announced it would temporarily suspend “the intake of foreign workers” after national backlash against a plan to recruit 1.5 million Bangladeshi workers. Myanmar recruiters already had an embargo in place due to a fued over a newly instituted one-stop service centre that gave one agency a functional monopoly.