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October 1999, Volume 6, Number 10

Malaysia, Singapore

About 150,000 foreign workers in Malaysia were supposed to renew their work permits by August 15, 1999. The government reported that some 71,244 Indonesians; 46,473 Malaysians; 7,039 Indian nationals; 6,562 Thais; 990 Filipinos; and 3,543 others did not renew their work permits. Police launched a door-to-door search for suspected illegal workers. Renewing a work permit requires the foreign worker to pay for a health exam and the worker's employer to pay a levy or tax for the privilege of hiring a foreign worker.

In late August, Indonesian and Malaysian leaders agreed to try to regularize the flow of Indonesians to Malaysia—an estimated one million Indonesians are in Malaysia. However, the Malaysian Trades Union Congress (MTUC) opposed more labor imports and proposed that employers who import foreign workers should also pay into a fund to cover the costs of back wages and return transportation.

On September 1, Malaysian authorities deported 469 illegal immigrants.

Singapore. Singapore may sharply increase penalties for smuggling migrants—from the current two years in prison to 10 years plus caning. In the first eight months of 1998, about 5,500 foreigners were caught trying to enter Singapore and 50 trying to illegally leave Singapore.

Beginning April 2000, all foreign construction workers from certain countries such as Bangladesh and India —rather than the current half-- must pass a basic skills test to receive a work permit. The workers are tested on reading basic drawings and understanding basic English and math. The testing requirement, according to the president of Singapore's Contractors Association, "would help contractors in the hiring process and distinguish the skilled worker from a farmer who wants to find a job here."

Of the more than three million Singaporean population, 77 percent are ethnic Chinese, 14 percent are Malay and seven percent are Indian. There is a multi-racial community of about 700,000 foreign workers and professionals.

Sharon Vasoo, "Skills test for all foreign building workers soon," Straits Times, September 10, 1999. "Forced integration of ethnic communities harmful: Singapore official," Agence France Presse, September 9, 1999. "Hundreds of Indonesians deported from Malaysia," AP. September 1, 1999.