LETTER | Many articles in the mainstream media and social media have highlighted the existence of about 2.2 million documented migrant workers and an equal number, if not more, undocumented migrant workers working in Malaysia.
Regretfully, this has come about due to no clear policies on the deployment of foreign workers, issuance of new approvals, 6P and 3P rehiring exercises, lack of enforcement, inconsistent policies.
I'm not blaming the current ministers and the director-general of immigration as this is an “inherited problem” in their hands but somehow an urgent solution is needed.
This vulnerable situation is not only to the migrant workers but also affects Malaysians as a whole in their daily lives in the areas of job opportunities, business opportunities and above all personal health.
Communicable diseases are on the rise, for example, Malaysia was successful in eradicating tuberculosis but now there are many migrant workers who are carriers of the disease. All legally documented migrant workers are required to undergo a compulsory medical screening for their first three years of employment.
Subsequently, this is not mandatory but in view of the large numbers and unhealthy living conditions, yearly screenings should be made mandatory.
Also of concern are the estimated two million plus undocumented migrant workers who have not undergone any medical screening and could be carriers of various diseases.
More than the losses in job and business opportunities affecting Malaysians due to migrant workers, the alarming health issues and diseases spread through the migrant foreign workers should also be a major concern.
Migrant workers are clustered 15 to 30 in houses and shophouses and then work in places such as eateries.
A right move has been made by the government to temporarily freeze the intake of foreign workers and legalise undocumented workers under the 3P rehiring exercise. The rehiring programme 3P has been another failure as was the 6P.
The whole process should be made easier for both the employer and employee. The objective should be to get all the non-documented migrant workers documented. The government should relook the reasons why the 6P and 3P and also the 3+1 programme failed.
The biometric registration process for both the employer and employee should be simplified ideally with a minimum administration fee of RM500, fines waved and with the only other payment being for the levy, insurance and work permit fees.
There should be no restriction on the sectors. The employers should be allowed to register the workers in the sectors and sub-sectors that they are currently working in.
For example for the service sector, the sub-sector for cargo handling is confined to ports and airports but there are multinational third-party logistics companies having large inland warehouses outside the zoning of the ports and airports.
Vendors engaged by these companies are not able to register their workers as well as apply for new workers. The sub-sector for cargo handling should not be confined to ports and airports as the scope of work is the same in both these areas.
The deputy home minister’s statement that within a month the government will rid the country of illegal migrant workers is admirable but the fact is the task is monumental. In view of the large number of illegal migrants estimated to be more than two million, this could expose the government to huge expenses for accommodation, food and repatriation.
Repatriation could also take time as most of them could be without valid travel documents and liaising with the relevant embassies and high commission for the issuance of temporary travel documents could take time.
To resolve this problem once for all, the government should consider extending the 3P exercise for another three months with clear guidelines on the process, documents required, levy and work permit fees, special pass fees if any to be paid. Then make these known by way of gazette and use radio and television and newspaper advertisements to create awareness.
The 3P exercise should not be outsourced and the whole programme should be taken over by the Immigration Department. The Immigration Department has offices all over the country and it should play a lead role in the exercise to ensure effectiveness and transparency.
The Immigration Department should set up a “One Stop Centre” in all their offices and if all documents are correct and the biometrics of both employer and employee taken, approval should be given immediately and a special pass issued for a month to complete the medical screening followed up with payment of levy and work permit fees.
The special pass should only be extended if the foreign worker has applied to the relevant embassies and high commissions for a new passport and such documentary evidence is produced.
The Immigration Department should monitor the follow-up process by the employer and communicate with the employer who has not completed the process of registration. The necessary warning letters can be issued and enforcement actions are taken towards compliance.
The Immigration Department should upgrade their IT Systems to accommodate this (if not done yet).
If this 3P programme on a “One Stop Centre” basis is adopted and immediate approval was given irrespective of the sectors and subsector, there will be a large number of illegal immigrants and their employers coming forward to register.
And thus, records of the employer and illegal migrant workers will be documented for relevant authorities to take action in case of default by either the employers or the immigrant worker and this also keeps a tab on the subsequent renewal of work permits and the repatriation of workers on expiry of their work permits.
The problem of illegal migrant workers must be resolved first before addressing other issues involving new migrant workers which are also lacking in clarity, effectiveness and transparency.
Hopefully, the ministers concerned will look into these suggestions highlighted above with the objective to document all illegal migrant workers in the country. The 3P programme to rid the country of illegal migrant workers should not fail like how previous 6P and 3P programmes did.
The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of Malaysiakini.