Malaysiakini Letter

Harapan must tackle foreign worker problem differently

Group of Hard-working Citizens
Published:  |  Modified:

LETTER | Dear Mr Home Minister,

First of all, congratulations on your victory in GE14, and welcome back to the cabinet.

Being a group of citizens who put faith in Pakatan Harapan, we are glad to know that you are now placing the illegal immigrant’s problem on high priority in your working schedule. Every Malaysian knows our country is now overcrowded with illegal immigrants. Many of them have been residing here for decades without valid documentation. Some are even living with their entire family or running some business at corners around the city.

It is reported that there are close to 5-6 million foreign workers in Malaysia, out of which, less than 2 million are legally registered. Last year, the BN government conducted a Rehiring Programme to allow illegal workers to register and get legalized. Unfortunately, this programme was a total failure as merely about 150k illegal workers showed up.

What happened to the other 3-4 million illegal workers? Why did they choose to remain as illegal? If someone could just talk to any of the foreign workers, you would know the major reasons are:

1. The cost is too high - the overall cost could be up to RM4000-5000 per head to get legalized. While employers are expected to pay upfront for them, such expenses will eventually be borne by the workers themselves. Subsequent annual renewal costs could again be as high as RM2000+. It is a tough decision for those who earn RM1500 or less per month to fork out such an amount of money. Moreover, many of them have been illegally and peacefully residing in Malaysia for many years. So, why bother?

2. The procedure is a killer. Ask those who queued in the application centres. Many of them, including the employers, had to spend the entire day or days just to get the queue number. They could be easily thrown out of the queue and had to come back again if there was a slight error or missing page in the documents they submitted. Instead of letting thousands of people waiting in the hall, the authority could have used appointment booking system to save everybody's time. Why did they never bother to do that? Simply because the BN government was too arrogant and inconsiderate towards its people.

3. The workers and employers have no faith in the BN government. For the past few decades, the BN government had never shown a clear determination to tackle the illegal workers problem. All they cared about was how to make more money through the agents and cronies in this corrupted system. True enough, those who registered and paid in the rehiring programme, many are still waiting for their legal permit to be issued until today. When blocked in the streets by the police, they still have to pay whatever they have with them in order to be released.

Mr Home Minister, you told the reporters earlier that “we cannot legalize what is illegal”. The citizens will fully support your statement. However, before you start sending your troops to raid all the construction sites, coffee shops, restaurants, factories and causing shops owners to rather temporarily shut down their businesses, we believe there are some other aspects you need to consider.

First of all, it is always a myth why there are thousands of employers facing shortage of foreign workers while the streets are full of illegal workers, many of them are jobless. Many business owners have gone through all kind of painful processes to apply for foreign workers but the wait is usually endless.

Only those who go through agents with “special connections” are able to get the workers, after paying a price.

On one hand, there is a surplus of (illegal) workers in the market; on the other hand, employers are struggling with insufficient labour. Even under such circumstances, our ex-home minister was at one time planning to bring in another 1.5 million of Bangladesh workers.

To the employers, it is indeed a good news when the Pakatan Harapan government announced the service termination of Myeg, Bukti Megah and Iman Resources. Both employers and workers have been suffering from the inefficiency of these agencies, together with the relevant departments in KDN and Immigration.

There are hundreds of factors which brought us the problematic situation today. It is too easy to simply point the fingers at the workers/employers/ immigration officers/cronies. However, one can never deny is that we lack proper planning and solutions for foreign workers' issues. The BN government never bother to listen to the employers or workers or NGOs for that matter.

You may threaten the workers and employers. You may raid as many times as you like. It will eventually cause great damage to most industries because even legal workers will go into hiding and the business operations have to cease. Until the police lock-ups or detention camps are overcrowded and not able to take in any more illegal immigrants, then, everything will be back to square one. This is what has been recurring during the administration of the BN government.

We hope the Harapan government will do things differently. Please be more open to suggestions, listen to different parties before you decide on your next course of actions. There must be ways to handle the matter more professionally without causing too much havoc in the business sectors. Anything that you plan, has to be workable in long term.

There is a redundancy in government servants. Why not transfer part of them to immigration department to handle what the agencies did? Foreign workers administration should not be a lucrative business run by political cronies. When the government can provide efficient service at reasonable costs, there will be no reason for employers to prefer to engage illegal workers.

We sincerely trust that you will be more open and considerate than your predecessor.

The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of Malaysiakini.

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