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Foreign workers: A mess of problems

 | July 28, 2011

Amnesty programme will fail unless various issues are resolved, says Tenaganita.

PETALING JAYA: The government’s amnesty programme for undocumented foreign workers will fail if it does not address the root causes of problems associated with foreign labour, according to activists.

Irene Fernandez, who heads the human rights group Tenaganita, said the system of recruitment and placement of migrant workers was full of problems and the government did not know how to tackle them.

“The system is riddled with rapid approvals without verification and irresponsible recruitment agents and employers,” she told reporters at the Tenaganita office here.

Fernandez believes that the vast majority of undocumented migrant workers in Malaysia – numbering more than 1.5 million – had either overstayed or had had their visas renewed by their employers fraudulently.

“A significant number of workers were brought into the country through outsourcing companies in 2007 and 2008 and their calling visas were not converted into work permits,” she said.

“Instead, the workers were sold from employer to employer.”


Last month, Deputy Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin announced an amnesty programme in which illegal migrant workers would be registered.

He said the plan would run from July 11 to Aug 7 and would involve registering workers under a biometric identification system. Undocumented workers could evade arrest through registration by paying a RM300 fine and a special visa fee of RM100.

They would be given the choice of staying or returning to their home countries. If they chose to stay, they would have to get work permits, costing between RM2,000 and RM3,500.

The plan however, has hit several snags, with postponements and problems along the way.

The first postponement was to July 18 and the second to Aug 1.

The government’s reason for the second postponement was that the machinery was not ready and the 5,000 officers involved needed to be trained.

According to Fernandez, there has been speculation about profiteering.

She said 300 companies had been chosen as registration agents. “Who are behind these companies and what were the criteria applied in choosing them?”

Referring to the 200-odd outsourcing companies appointed in 2006, she said many of them were in dubious circumstances.

“Many of these companies did not even have a proper office,” she said. “It was revealed that they were contributing to political financing.”

She said the “mess of problems” relating to registration of foreign workers had been compounded by bringing documented workers into the mix.

“The Home Ministry has changed its mind and said it would begin the registration exercise with a process for creating a new ID for documented migrants using the biometric system.”

These changes in the plan had left foreign workers and the respective embassies confused, Fernandez said.

Nepal Labour Organisation coordinator Kopilah Gautam agreed. She told reporters that Nepalese workers were getting mixed messages about the biometric system.

“Our embassy is saying that the workers don’t have to pay the fee for biometrics,” she said.

She added that foreign worker agents were taking advantage of the situation by charging workers various legal fees.


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