It’s a question which no one can answer: Why is Malaysia refusing to let visa-holding, working expats return to the country?
Despite writing to many people in the government, no one can offer us an explanation for the ongoing refusal to allow working expats, who were caught overseas when the lockdown was implemented 11 weeks ago, back into the country.
There have been stories about their plight in the national media, including heartbreaking stories of children being separated from their parents, but it truly seems no one cares. Here at TEG Media, we have always looked for ways to promote Malaysia since the company began in 1996. We do this because we feel the country has a lot going for it that makes it easy to recommend, and also that Malaysia and its people probably deserve more positive coverage in the international media than they typically receive. So it is perplexing that the authorities choose to give more reasons for yet more negative coverage about Malaysia.
It is generally recognised that expats can play a useful role in helping to grow any economy, which is why there are so many of them living all over the world. Indeed, many Malaysians also live overseas, working as expats in countries around the world. Expats bring their skills, their capabilities, and their global outlook to many countries, and those countries benefit from this.
So the question is, “Why, despite all the publicity, has the government decided to send a message that expats are not valued?” At TEG Media, we have contacted many people seeking an answer, but none of them even respond, let alone explain to us why working expats and their dependents are not permitted to return home.
No Good Reason
It goes without saying that there is strong humanitarian basis for letting people reunite with their loved ones, but we understand there are other considerations facing the country. We certainly recognise that the government has done a very good job of mitigating the spread of the Covid-19 virus. We also understand that giving priority to returning Malaysians was the obvious choice for the government, but why is it that even after allowing tens of thousands of Malaysians to return, why can’t a few hundred expats who live her come back to their homes? Most of the nearly 40,000 Malaysians who returned here after the lockdown began are no longer in quarantine, so that cannot be an obstacle. There is plenty of capacity in the hotels and facilities designated by the government as quarantine centres, now that a majority of returning Malaysians have completed their mandatory two-week quarantine. There is simply no good reason that we can see for prolonging the refusal to allow working expats to return to their homes.
Similarly, since any foreigners who are permitted to return have to show a negative test for Covid-19 to be allowed into Malaysia, followed by two weeks of mandatory quarantine, the risk of spreading the disease cannot be the reason.
The Malaysia My Second Home (MM2H) visa holders, also numbering just a few hundred, have only just been allowed to return to their homes following weeks of being barred from entering Malaysia. Regrettably, the rules were rather confusing, and the communication wasn’t especially effective, so some of these MM2Hers were refused permission to board flights and even though the requirements have now been clarified, others still cannot return because the mandatory Covid-19 test (performed in the country from which they are departing) is not available in some countries unless a person shows symptoms of the disease.
An Illogical Economic Choice
The government has encouraged most businesses to reopen, as it quite rightly has concerns about the economic impact of the virus. So why the refusal to allow expats return to resume their positons? In order to gain an employment pass, expats have to show they have special skills, have considerable qualifications, or hold necessary management positions. Logically, therefore, it would follow that they are important to the companies where they work – and to Malaysia’s overall workforce – and yet they cannot come to Malaysia to resume their jobs. Under a previous government’s impressive Economic Transformation Programme, a new category of visa for working expats was created. It was reflective of that government’s view that skilled expats should be valued and encouraged to stay here. Called the Residence Pass-Talent, the programme offered a 10-year visa and the flexibility to work for any company in Malaysia. As one such visa holder wrote to us, “I was lead to believe this visa was offered because they valued our contributions, but it seems the new government does not share that view. I took a short business trip and could not return home before the lockdown. Now, I have been stuck overseas at great cost for over two months.”
One expat wrote to us saying his company made a decision to invest in Malaysia as a result of the marketing efforts of Invest KL, a body set up specifically to encourage foreign investment. They chose Malaysia because they thought their investment would be valued. He says he now regrets the choice because Singapore has apparently let long-term employment pass holders return to their country and he could now be at home with his wife and children. The potential negative impact for future foreign investment cannot be ignored, and it is bewildering that the government continues to just turn a blind eye to this issue.
Let Them Back In!
The government has said previously that expats stranded abroad can return after the MCO/CMCO ends, but every day counts. We urge the government to allow working expats to return home now so that they can contribute to rebuilding Malaysia’s economy and, in many cases, be reunited with their loved ones.
Failing that, could someone in the government please provide a reason for locking them out of their homes?
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