Untapped Talent of Expat Spouses

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Anabelle Co was a Filipino expat working in Singapore when her French husband was suddenly posted to head a company in KL.

“Why KL? I cannot live in KL,” she initially thought, “It’s backward!”

Advice from friends on the difficulty of getting a work visa did not assuage her doubts about the move. However, when Anabelle finally moved to the Malaysian capital with her husband in 2007, she realised how wrong her initial assumptions were.

“After Singapore, KL is much bigger with a lot more to offer. Once I saw the roads, infrastructure and development in expat areas like Mont Kiara and Bangsar I was impressed.”

However, one initial doubt turned out to be true. Although Anabelle applied for many jobs, she found out that companies were reluctant to hire. Those who were interested in her did not know how or have the capacity to get a work permit for her.

Annabelle persevered, and eventually an acquaintance passed her resume to the right person in Microsoft Malaysia.

“If one looks hard for work, it will become available,” she said. “It was clearly the networks I nurtured here that helped me find a job.”


Since 2008, the Government has allowed spouses of expats working in Malaysia on an Employment Pass to also find employment in the country. It was recognised that many expatriates bring along with them spouses who are qualified in their own right, but may not be recognised by Malaysian companies as a pool to tap from.

Jaya Mahajan, a successful documentary producer back in Mumbai, India, clearly epitomises such a talent, having produced award-winning documentaries for National Geographic, CNN and BBC.

When her husband was promoted and posted to KL in 2008, this could have meant many steps backward for Jaya in her career. Fortunately, this former business broadcaster with CNBC quickly found a job as head of factual programming with Astro.


There, she was hired to upgrade the TV station’s documentary production department, as the local workforce were not yet familiar with what was required to produce internationally-accepted documentaries.

“I firmly believe I got the job because I have very niche skill sets,” she shares, “and because I have worked with international broadcasters.”

Jaya’s appointment has brought success to all concerned. Her documentaries have recently won eight awards, including international ones. They have also been commercial successes, on international networks such as the National Geographic channel. This has brought her recognition and reward.

“I feel valued,” she adds, “And I am compensated well for my skills!”


Anabelle and Jaya relish the opportunity to work with Malaysian and foreign colleagues. They enjoy the camaraderie among colleagues, bonding over food, sight-seeing Malaysia and living like the locals. They certainly recommend working here and have these words of advice for expat spouses looking for work in Malaysia.

“Never give up,” Anabelle says, while Jaya advises, “keep an open mind.”

In fact, it is now even easier for spouses of high-value expats to work in Malaysia. In recognition of the value that they bring, the Government now offers the Residence Pass to expats currently working in Malaysia who are high contributors to the nation’s key economic areas. The RP allows both the expats and their spouses, to live and work in Malaysia for up to 10 years, and change employers when needed.

The agency responsible for implementing the Residence Pass is TalentCorp, a company established under the Prime Minister’s Department. “We recognise that expats are not just here to contribute in an economic sense to the nation’s development, but also want a conducive environment in which to raise their family,” said Johan Mahmood Merican, CEO of TalentCorp. “We want to make it as easy as possible for them to do so.”

Anabelle herself plans to apply for the RP, and she is excited about the prospect, “I don’t know if I would have thought this when I first came here, but I’m okay with staying in Malaysia for good!”

Source: The Expat June 2011
This article has been edited for ExpatGomalaysia.com
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