Is It Really So Hard to Allow Expats to Return to Malaysia?

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After all the media coverage, letters, e-mails, and even meetings, it is inconceivable that the authorities somehow do not know about the resident expats who want to return to their homes and families in Malaysia. However, they have chosen to ignore all the pleas to let expats with valid visas return to Malaysia and remain steadfast in their refusal.

It has been nearly three months since the country closed its borders to foreigners. According to national media, close to 40,000 Malaysians have been allowed back into the country, and this is certainly appropriate. We believe all countries should give priority to their own citizens, but turning their backs on foreigners who have homes, jobs, and lives in Malaysia seems very wrong.

Since the border lockdown, Malaysia’s healthcare authorities have done an excellent job of containing the spread of the Covid-19 virus. The success has allowed them to lift many of the initial restrictions placed on residents. They have even encouraged most businesses to reopen in order to get the population working again. Still, though, expats who work here but are stuck overseas are not welcome.

The government has now announced that Malaysians do not have to go into compulsory quarantine and can self-isolate at home. For some reason this apparently does not include those expats (predominantly MM2Hers) who are allowed into Malaysia, and it seems they must still undergo mandatory quarantine in a government designated facility and pay for it. They are even required to show a negative Covid-19 test, which for some of them is a major problem since some countries will only give the test if you have symptoms. So if you look and feel perfectly healthy you cannot get tested and you cannot return to Malaysia. This requirement does not apply to Malaysians.

The government proudly talks about their successes, and rightly so, but will not explain the harsh treatment of resident expats who were unlucky enough to get caught outside the country when the lockdown was announced (and subsequently implemented less than 48 hours later). In many cases, these expats have run up huge expenses stuck in foreign countries.

Still, one question the government cannot answer, despite repeated requests, is, “Why are they refusing entry to resident expats with valid visas?”

The expat community all contribute in some way to Malaysia’s economic growth, so why are some of them being treated as pariahs just because they were unable to return home before the lockdown went into effect three months ago?

One would understand it if there were tens of thousands of them but that is not the case. They number in the hundreds and since they live here with valid visas and have made their homes here, why is it such a big issue to let them come home, particularly after nearly three months away from their homes, jobs, and families? It certainly cannot be because they risk spreading the Covid-19 virus – the current restrictions ensure that is a near-impossibility.

Sadly, there is a growing suspicion among the expat community that someone in authority is sending a clear message that expats are not welcome in Malaysia. It is understood that expats need to be approved to live and/or work here, but once that approval is given why not treat them as valued residents who deserve some degree of support and recognition from the government?

We are finding It harder not to come to the same conclusion, although after more than 20 years enthusiastically promoting the country, it is indeed a sad development for our company if it is true.


We also have no idea who is trying to send this message. Is it the decision of the Prime Minister or a Cabinet Minister or someone lower down the administration? Most important, why is the government now deciding to treat expats this way?

I was given unsolicited Permanent Residency because of our company’s ongoing efforts to promote the country to the international community. It was given at a time when the government welcomed foreign investment and skilled expats into Malaysia. We have worked with InvestKL and Talent Corp to help encourage foreign investment, as well to make it easier for talented expats to stay here and help the economy grow. We strongly feel a vibrant expat community can help any country grow stronger and more competitive in the global economy, but it increasingly seems Malaysia no longer believes this. If indeed expats are no longer welcome here, then we are convinced this is a bad move for the future economic growth of Malaysia.

I very much hope we are drawing the wrong conclusion. However, it is hard to see why Malaysia would refuse to allow working expats back into their homes if they valued the expats and their contribution to Malaysia. It is also strange that they choose not to offer any explanation for their decision. Malaysia is one of the few countries to refuse entry to long-term residents and it seems even stranger now that more and more countries are looking at ways to open their borders to tourists. Surely it is time to allow all expats who have their home here to return along with their dependents.

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