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March 1996, Volume 3, Number 3

Indonesian Workers in Malaysia

Malaysia's "easy exit" for illegal aliens, which began February 3, 1996 during the Hari Raya festival week, attracted few takers. In response, the Malaysian government extended the program until the end of February.

The Malaysian government estimates that 40,000 Indonesians have overstayed their visas. Under Ops Check-Out, these Indonesians can pay a fine of RM 1,000 or $400 for entering the country illegally or staying without proper permits (the normal penalty is RM 3,000); pay for the return trip home; and be fingerprinted--they can then leave Malaysia legally.

The government admitted that many Indonesians may not have signed up for fear of being unable to return to Malaysia later due to the finger-printing requirement.

In early February, police in Kuala Lumpur detained 1,600 foreigners suspected of being illegally in the country.

The government announced that a total of 608,000 foreigners were registered with the Immigration Department in early 1996-- 249,185 Indonesian nationals, 79,688 Bangladeshis, 1,999 Pakistanis, 21,870 Thais, 26,049 Filipinos and 229,431 other nationals. The three major sectors of legal foreigners employment were plantations, with 180,688 foreigners, manufacturing 177,252, and maids, 117,203.

The Malaysian Cabinet approved a fee structure for Indonesian maids. Under the new agreement with Indonesia, maids will pay RM 300 ($115) there for "training" before their departure for Malaysia.

If Indonesian recruiters attempt to pass this fee onto Malaysian households that employ them, the government may expand the source counties of maids from the current Indonesia, the Philippines and Thailand to also include Sri Lanka and Bangladesh.

Malaysian households already pay a fee of RM 1,870 to the Malaysian government to receive permission to hire foreign maids, plus RM 500 to a Malaysian recruitment agency to find them a foreign maid. Indonesian maids will have to pay RM 1,083 to recruitment agencies in Jakarta for placement fees and services such as documentation, health examination, training, visa and transportation.

Indonesian maids must be paid a minimum RM 350 ($135) per month in Malaysia, or RM 450 if they have experience. The Philippines requires Filipina maids to be paid a minimum RM 500 ($190) per month.

The Malaysian government changed their policy of not granting work permits to the spouses of foreign workers. In granting work permits to spouses, the government argued that the foreign spouses are already at home in Malaysia and that it would be better than employing "strangers."

In an effort to eliminate the need for foreign workers at gas (petro) stations, the first phase of installing 514 self service stations will be completed in January, 1997. The approximately 5,000 foreign workers now employed as petrol kiosk attendants will lose their jobs.

A 1995 report by a non-governmental organization called Tenaganita criticized the detention camps that hold illegal foreign workers as "concentration camps." The report detailed physical abuse, poor food and sanitation and a lack of medical care. The government admitted that 40 foreign workers died in the camps in 1995. Since the report, doctors visit the camps weekly, and water is available all the time.

"Only 5,000 Indons responded to check out offer," New Straits Times, February 22, 1996. "Ministry extends Ops Check-out," New Straits Times, February 24, 1996. Ramlan Said, "Illegal Indons to pay only RM 1,000 fine," New Straits Times, February 4, 1996. "Hitting the Whistleblowers," AsiaWeek, January 12, 1996. Mary Zachariah, "514 self-service petro stations by 1997," Business Times, January 10, 1996. "Foreign spouses and work," New Straits Times, January 9, 1996. "Cabinet approves agency structure for Indon maids,' New Straits Times, February 8, 1996. "900 illegals detained in Negri last year, says MB," New Straits Times, February 5, 1996. Azman Ahmad, "Employers told not pay recruitment fee for maids," New Straits Times, February 4, 1996. "Labour starved Malaysia to employ 'foreign spouses,'" Reuters, January 5, 1996. "Success--all in the mind," Business Times, January 2, 1996.