The quasi-announcement has thrown the lives of many foreign visitors in the country into uncertainty and upheaval.
This story has been updated with new information (April 13, 8:30am).
Over the past several days, foreigners from several countries have been receiving emails from their respective embassies in Malaysia, telling them they must leave the country before April 21 to avoid possibly being fined or detained.
We are not aware of any officially released announcement by the government apart from their reminder in January 2021 that the grace period for foreign nationals with expired social visa passes would end 14 working days after the conclusion of the MCO.
With that in mind, this rapidly approaching deadline is based on a Malaysian government grace period for foreigners whose social visit passes expired in 2020 and left them largely stranded by movement control restrictions here in Malaysia and widespread border closures worldwide.
Since the news broke, government officials have explained that foreigners with expired social visit passes can apply for a special pass to extend their stay, with consideration given on a case-by-case basis.
WHERE DID THIS INFORMATION COME FROM?
The movement control order officially ended on March 31, which makes April 21 the final date of a 14-working day grace period. Although the MCO was extended until April 14 (in CMCO and RMCO iterations), the government has not announced if the grace period was similarly extended.
In the absence of such information, some foreign missions have taken to warning their nationals that they might have less than two weeks to settle their affairs and leave the country, or stay and face the consequences.
On April 7, US citizens in Malaysia began receiving emails from a traveller registration programme run by the US State Department about the impending end of the grace period.
“The Malaysian authorities have not indicated that the grace period has been extended,” the email said. “US citizens in Malaysia holding expired social visit passes should prepare to depart Malaysia prior to April 21.”
Note that this applies only to those holding social visit passes; foreigners in Malaysia who are holding resident passes, employment passes, MM2H visas, or other categories of visas apart from social passes do not seem to be included in this directive.
WHY THIS MATTERS
For those affected by this deadline, the potential problems are significant. First, international flights are still quite limited, both in frequency and destination. Second, the foreigner’s choices of where to go are commensurately going to be quite limited. For many, returning to their home country may be the only option. Third, the deadline is exceptionally soon for people who may have been stuck in the country for a year or longer, making the urgency of the short timeframe especially pronounced.
Quite unsurprisingly, foreign tourists who have received the emails are now in a serious quandary over what to do next – whether to prepare to leave or wait, in the hopes that the government will issue clearer directions on their status, or offer any possible remedies or options.
Malaysian social visit passes are generally valid for a single entry and for a period of three months (90 days) from the date of issue. Before the pandemic, most pass holders who wanted to remain longer would leave the country for a few days and then return, thus marking the start of a new three-month period.
International border closures brought about by the Covid-19 pandemic have, of course, made such visa renewal runs virtually impossible. For many others, the prospect of returning to their home country for good in the present climate will come at a great cost.
WHAT WE KNOW
We at TEG Media spoke with Immigration on April 12, and the person to whom we spoke confirmed that foreign tourists do need to leave Malaysia by April 21, failing which they would be ‘blacklisted’ – which we presume could preclude future entry, but this was not made clear and could have just been the casual use of a colloquial term rather than anything official.
If tourists already have a ticket that has been issued before April 21 with a departure date after April 21, it was suggested that this would be acceptable. In our query, we referenced a foreign visitor whose departure ticket is for April 29, and Immigration indicated this was acceptable, with the visitor simply having to fill up a form prior to departure. How much leeway they would give with regard to how far out the ticket is dated was, again, not made clear.
Requesting an extension or applying for a new social visit pass are both certainly options, but it’s difficult to say how responsive Immigration would be to this, given the workload they are likely facing at this time. Other local media have reported no response from Immigration to their inquiries on this matter.
It is strongly hoped that Immigration will quickly make an official statement to clarify this matter. That said, some new information did come to light on Monday evening.
Home Affairs Minister Hamzah Zainudin noted on Monday (April 12) that the government would consider appeals made by foreigners with expired social visit passes to remain in the country. Such consideration would be extended on a “case-by-case basis,” he said.
When asked point-blank to confirm whether or not foreigners were indeed required to exit Malaysia by April 21, as has been interpreted by foreign embassies here – a basic ‘yes’ or ‘no’ question – he delivered this cryptic response, as reported by CNA, which despite its length, still managed to not directly answer the question:
“Those who we have been caught and committed offences, including offences that are against Malaysian law… once it’s time to send them back, we send them back. We are a government that is responsible to the people in our country. For those who are stranded because of the MCO issue, on humanitarian grounds, it is only fair if they come out and apply to me and I will consider on a case-to-case basis.”
That said, Malaysia’s Director-General of Immigration, Khairul Dzaimee Daud, also issued a statement on Monday evening declaring that foreigners who are unable to leave the country by April 21 may apply for a special pass to extend their stay. This would certainly seem to unequivocally confirm the date in question.
“Documents of proof of address and financial means to stay in Malaysia must be submitted, as well,” Mr Khairul said, adding that any extension granted must also be approved by their respective embassy, high commission, or diplomatic mission.
He also explained that Malaysia’s immigration department is aware that foreigners on expired social visit passes are facing potential difficulties returning to their home countries due to a lack of flights and issues relating to Covid-19 border closures.
WHAT DOES IT MEAN?
Our thoughts are that although some foreigners are possibly abusing their time in Malaysia (which the Immigration DG alluded to in his statement), many of the foreign nationals who are stuck in the country largely offer more positives to Malaysia than negatives. First, they are spending their money here. And second, many seem to be acting as goodwill ambassadors for a country which – since the pandemic began – could frankly use the good word, particularly when it comes to how foreigners have been treated here. Here’s just one example from a Canadian couple stranded in Malaysia (whose post back in June 2020, screenshot as the feature image for this story, gained over 110,000 views), who detailed their positive experience on their ‘JetLag Warriors’ YouTube channel in January 2021, quickly amassing tens of thousands of views and hundreds of comments:
According to a story in Free Malaysia Today, one foreigner (who requested anonymity for obvious reasons) said he had been unable to renew his pass since Malaysia closed its borders over a year ago, and has been here ever since. Now he is aghast over the prospect of having to leave so suddenly.
“And now my friends are getting these emails, telling them they have to leave in less than two weeks?” he said. “It’s not as easy as it sounds. Some of us have put down roots here. I’ve rented a house and I have my rescue cats. How do I find homes for them?”
Acknowledging the difficult and potentially costly bind this has put him and others like him in, he said, “It would be nice if the Malaysian government could clarify what would happen to us,” he said.
We will continue our communication efforts with Immigration and will update this story accordingly.
" ExpatGo welcomes and encourages comments, input, and divergent opinions. However, we kindly request that you use suitable language in your comments, and refrain from any sort of personal attack, hate speech, or disparaging rhetoric. Comments not in line with this are subject to removal from the site. "