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LETTER | Fine-tune labour recalibration programmes

LETTER | On Nov 12, the Home Ministry announced two programmes involving undocumented migrant workers - the Repatriation Recalibration Programme offering undocumented migrants an opportunity to return home hassle-free and the Labour Recalibration Programme which will allow employers to legally employ undocumented foreign workers. 

The programmes were to be implemented from Nov 16 until June 30, 2021.

One would imagine that an important announcement such as this would have been made after meticulous planning of all aspects of its implementation. On the contrary, immigration director-general Khairul Dzaimee Daud said that announcements regarding the two programmes will be made “from time to time”.

This begs the question: What are the employers and the undocumented migrants supposed to do while waiting for the drips and drabs of information to filter through? 

It is almost as if the authorities have perversely designed the information flow in such a way as to create an ecosystem of confusion and misinformation in which the only beneficiaries are agents and intermediaries.

As news of the recalibration programmes spread like wildfire among the migrant worker community, agents and intermediaries were already advertising their services for them and collecting up to RM3,000 from hopeful migrant workers.

It should be noted that Home Minister Hamzah Zainudin had stated that the recalibration programme would be implemented by the Immigration and Labour Department, without the involvement of vendors and third parties. It is difficult to believe that the Immigration Department, with its excellent intelligence unit, is unaware of the activities of these agents and intermediaries.

Almost four weeks after the announcement, the programmes have still not taken off, and remain mired in confusion, uncertainty and lack of authoritative information.

On Dec 3, Hamzah added to the confusion by announcing that firms can hire foreign workers if they finance the deportation of those held at immigration depots. Not to be outdone, two days later, Khairul declared that not all undocumented migrant workers are eligible for the programme. 

Apparently the plan is only applicable to those who are already in employment (illegally?) and those in detention centres. Perhaps undocumented migrants who wish to participate in this programme, should make their way to the nearest detention centre and offer themselves to be detained!

Employers have been told that they need to apply through the Immigration Department’s Integrated Foreign Workers Management System (ePPAx), which would process the request within seven days, according to information on its website. 

As of Dec 2, Khairul reported that the department had received 478 applications from employers involving 1,980 undocumented migrants. However, there have been no reports of how many, if any, of the applications have been successful so far.

The home minister had said that the Home and Human Resources ministries would engage with embassies and high commissions, as well as industry players, to inform employers and undocumented migrants on what exactly the recalibration and repatriation plans entailed. 

However, the diplomatic missions remain ignorant of the details of the much-vaunted recalibration programmes. All that the Bangladesh High Commission could offer was “even if a few thousand Bangladeshis can become legal, their remittances will have a positive impact on Bangladesh’s economy.” 

His concern was primarily about remittances, notwithstanding the fact that “because undocumented workers are not ensured any rights, they are abused everywhere and have to work on very low wages just to survive”.

Meanwhile undocumented migrant workers - and many employers - rely on the ever-ready and friendly agents and intermediaries, who are waiting like vultures to prey on the hopeful undocumented migrant workers, for information.

There has been no information forthcoming on what are the costs involved in the hiring process and who pays it. However, Hamzah claimed that the government expected to collect about RM90 million “through compounds and other payments” imposed on the migrants and employers.

Meanwhile, on Dec 4, Khairul reported that a total of 250,000 applications are expected to be submitted under the programmes. The basis for arriving at these figures is unknown to us. 

Assuming that only 50 percent of the applications are approved, and those with rejected applications do not need to pay any fees, the “revenue” from each successful application is RM720. One can only hope that the total cost for the worker does not exceed this amount.

A month has passed since the programmes were announced. Could the ministries involved please come up with clear and full details on how they are going to be implemented, without wasting any more time? 

The Immigration Department should also cease and desist from arresting undocumented migrant workers while these two programmes are underway. To continue with the arrests and detention can only be construed as male fide action on the part of the authorities. The migrant workers - and responsible employers- deserve to be treated better.

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

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