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May 2000, Volume 7, Number 5

Malaysia: Foreign Workers

The Malaysian National Security Council was asked to develop plans to reduce illegal immigration, especially in Sabah, where there are an estimated 400,000 to 800,000 unauthorized foreigners. There are 697,219 foreign workers registered in peninsular Malaysia, including 521,766 Indonesians; 129,004 Bangladeshis; 30,510 Filipinos; 3,820 Pakistanis; 2,888 Thais; and 18,774 others.

The Federal Task Force on Foreign Workers has told employers that they must return foreign workers to their original countries if they suffer from disease. Between April 1998 and March 2000, 12,903 foreign workers were infected with Hepatitis B, leprosy, cancer and HIV. According to Sabah's Federal Task Force director, employers who pay to return sick workers can apply to replace them with healthy foreign workers.

Malaysia in April 2000 announced new safeguards for foreign Muslim maids and eased rules on hiring Filipinas and Sri Lankans as part of a plan to reduce attacks on domestic helpers. Non-Muslim employers hiring foreign Muslim maids will have to sign a pledge to allow them religious privileges, including an opportunity to perform their prayers, fast during the Ramadan month and not be required to handle pork and dogs. Muslims are required to hire maids who are Muslims.

Malaysian families with a household income of at least M$5000 or $US1316 a month are permitted to hire maids from Sri Lanka and the Philippines. There were 162,868 foreign maids in the country, mostly from Indonesia, Thailand and Cambodia.

Deputy Home Minister Datuk Zainal Abidin Zin clarified his remarks about marriage in April 2000--"I am not telling the locals not to marry foreign spouses but if possible, find a local spouse. It is not that we want to make it difficult for foreigners who marry locals but there are problems that delay the endorsement of permanent residence and visa extension. What is wrong with the locals that you have to go and find a spouse from another country and then go through all this trouble?... We are not against foreigners but we have to be wary. Thus, we have to check every single detail about them before we actually allow them to stay permanently."

Zakiah Koya, "'Marry locals to avoid permit hassles,'" New Straits Times, April 27, 2000.