Updated Saturday, June 20, 10:30am
On Friday, June 19, expats with work permits heard the news they had been waiting three months to hear: Finally, they can return to Malaysia without a lot of fuss. It now seems that someone in the government has realised not only how unfairly they have been treated but also that these expats can contribute to Malaysia’s economic growth of the country as it moves into the recovery phase. Apparently, the decision was made at a special Cabinet meeting on June 17 and announced a couple of days later. The new rules allowing certain expats to return to Malaysia take effect on June 24.
We are waiting for additional rules or details to possibly emerge, but for now, according to Senior Minister (Security Cluster) Datuk Seri Ismail Sabri Yaakob, as reported in the news, expats with a the 10-year Resident Pass-Talent and those with the Category 1 Employment Pass (E1) will be permitted to return without the need to submit a lot of documentation and wait for approval by immigration. (The Category 1 pass is extended to expats who earn a salary of over RM10,000 per month, and these expats tend to occupy management-level positions.)
Finally, the government is agreeing that a valid visa if enough proof that they are legitimate working residents of Malaysia.
According to Ismail, “The expatriates must undergo Covid-19 screening at their respective home countries before their departure, or upon arrival in Malaysia if their country of origin does not offer a swab test.
“For those who test negative and originate from a country that has been identified as a green zone, they would not have to undergo the mandatory 14-day quarantine and only need to download the MySejahtera application.
“Those who test negative but arrive from a country identified as a red zone, they must be placed under the government’s mandatory 14-day quarantine at their homes and download the MySejahtera application,” he said.
The “green zone” countries so far include Singapore, Brunei, Australia, and New Zealand.
NEW RULES ONLY APPLY TO CERTAIN EXPATS
The new relaxation does not cover all expats with a valid visa, there is no mention of those with Category 2 and Category 3 employment visas (those earning less than RM10,000 a month and less than RM5,000 a month, respectively) and also the dependents of expats who have been stuck away from their families for over three months.
So, though the news isn’t quite as good as we hoped, it will hopefully soon lead to a relaxation for all those expats who have chosen or been asked to come to Malaysia and have valid visas to do so which for months the government chose not to recognise. Certainly issuing the visa does not guarantee the right of entry, but most countries do permit people with valid visas to enter. The recent actions of the government were perhaps understandable in the early days, when everyone was struggling, but we strongly believe it should not have taken so long to show some compassion and more importantly, realise the damage their actions were doing to the country. Many expats who were stuck overseas, often at great expense, are saying they are now considering leaving the country because of this treatment. This can damage foreign investments and the MM2H programme which both contribute materially to Malaysia’s economic growth
REPEATED CHANGES TO RE-ENTRY GUIDELINES
The rules on returning to the country for both MM2Hers and working expats have been marred by plenty of changes and confusion. The first rules for MM2Hers who were allowed to return said they had to show a negative Covid-19 test dated within 14 days of arrival. For some reason, this was reduced all the way down to three days before arrival which created many problems for those wishing to return. Three days was also the window given to expats, along with a long list of other complex procedures to follow.
For some, like those travelling from countries such as Singapore which only carry out tests on people with symptoms, this made matters very difficult. Expats had to try and manipulate the system to get the required test, a process which caused many of them a lot of frustration.
Given that most returning travellers now seem to have the rapid Covid-19 test on arrival to Malaysia, and also that Malaysians do not need to show any overseas tests at all – regardless of where they were travelling from – it is not clear why the rules for resident foreigners are so tough.
The sudden change in rules for some of the expats with work visas, though very welcome, is a surprising move. Just last week, the government released guidelines which made it very hard for them to return, and each company had to submit a request with supporting documentation to a committee in immigration who would decide if they could return or not. No one could understand, since they had valid visas to live and work here, why the government would make it so difficult for them to return to their homes and families. According to Ismail, the earlier rules (see below) still apply to the unfortunate expats who have E2 and E3 employment passes. We assume that this applies to dependents as well.
In previous years, the government would regularly engage with us to discuss these types of issues, as we have the most reach to the expat community and always have Malaysia’s interests in mind, but the current people in power will not even reply to our emails, so the attitude towards the expat community seems to have changed.
The rules for people with the MM2H visa who were stranded overseas were also recently made a lot easier, but only after multiple changes to the rules for re-entry and several airlines complained about the problems of staying up to date with the latest rules. A few expats reported that they were denied boarding because the airline had outdated rules, and in other cases because the expat did not know the latest rules. AT TEG Media, we have been advising expats of the changes, but even we found it hard to stay current since the apart from one very accommodating person in the Tourism Ministry, other government departments have ignored our repeated requests for clarification.
It seems the government has also realised that some foreigners have certain technical skills not easily found in Malaysia and is looking at also relaxing rules to allow them in, as well. For now, they would need to apply for a Professional Visit Pass via immigration’s online Expatriate Services Division website.
MORE RELAXED MEASURES AHEAD?
Other discussions are taking place between the Malaysian government and neighbouring countries which would allow citizens of participating countries to travel freely between them. This would create a ‘travel bubble’ and benefit both countries’ tourism industries. It is not clear how far these discussions have progressed, but no major announcements are expected soon and even when they ae announced will probably not include resident expats. It does seem likely that travel restrictions between Singapore and Malaysia will be eased in the near future. Both countries have a low number of cases among their general populations, but cases among migrant workers have spiked, particularly in Singapore.
PREVIOUS RULES AND PROCEDURES
These rules are no longer applicable to expats holding the Category 1 Employment Pass or Resident Pass-Talent.
Here is the process for working expats who do not meet the above criteria to return. First, they have to get a letter from their company requesting approval to return to Malaysia.
Then, the company (not the expat) has to obtain a letter of support from the relevant regulatory body, which to the best of our knowledge, comprise the following:
- Malaysian Industrial Development Authority (MIDA) for the sectors of manufacturing and services.
- Multimedia Development Corporation (MDeC) for the technology sector.
- Central Bank of Malaysia (BNM) for the sectors of finance, insurance, and banking.
- Malaysian Biotechnology Corporation (BiotechCorp – BC) for the sector of biotechnology.
- Securities Commission (SC) for the sector of securities and futures market.
- Expatriate Committee (EC) for sectors other than the ones mentioned above. Part of Immigration Department.
The company should send the support letter to the expat, who then must send it along with the letter from the company itself (two documents) to immigration at [email protected] asking for permission to return. They advise that they will approve within 7 days. However, if they do not approve it, then you will simply get no answer within that period, which apparently means you will not be able to know why you have been refused permission.
The approval letter itself will be sent to the company, whose job it is to then deliver it to the expat .
Entry into Malaysia can only be through KLIA or the two land crossings from Singapore.
Also all expat returnees have to have a Covid-19 test with negative results, although Malaysians are exempted from this requirement. The test has to be done within three days of arrival. (Some people are saying it is okay if the results are not dated within three days of arrival, but we cannot independently confirm this.)
MM2Hers were given a 14-day window for the test, so it is not clear why they are making it so hard for working expats, particularly as they often give expats another swab test when they arrive (this seems to be at the discretion of authorities at this time) and they then have to undergo quarantine.
All returning expats have to download and install the government’s mobile app called “MySejahtera” which monitors your adherence to the quarantine. This is compulsory.
The new rules do not cover expats with the Residence Pass-Talent who are not currently working with a company, but hopefully they can get an answer from TalentCorp, which handles these passes, as to how they can return. Expats whose work visas expired during the Movement Control Period will have to apply (with their respective embassy) for a visa to re-enter the country, if their nationality normally requires a visa to enter Malaysia.
Dependents have a slightly different procedure. Their principal visa holder has to request the Expatriate Committee to permit them to return. That approval, when received, then has to be sent to immigration at [email protected] asking for approval. After that, the procedures mirror those for working expats, as explained above.
The full guidelines can be found by CLICKING HERE. We recommend you read through the document carefully.
A BEGRUDGING CONSENT FOR EXPATS TO RETURN?
As we have written before, it seems the government is once more apparently sending a message that not only are resident expats not valued in Malaysia, but that the country no longer extends a warm welcome to foreign investors, if that includes expats coming here as well.
We acknowledge and agree that giving priority to Malaysian citizens to return is understandable, but it is hard to see any valid reason for making it so much harder for expats with valid visas to return to their homes, jobs, and families.
We also understand the country’s desire to crack down on illegal and undocumented migrant workers in Malaysia, whose numbers are significant. However, expats are both legal and documented (extensively), must show that they possess skills and talents that will benefit Malaysia, and consequently contribute materially to the nation’s economy and forward progress, so it seems illogical to mix up these two very different categories of foreign workers.
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