According to Malaysia’s Home Minister, the changes to the MM2H programme are here to stay, and the government will not entertain the myriad calls for reconsideration.
From all quarters, the pleas came fast and furious, urging the government to rethink its changes to the Malaysia My Second Home (MM2H) programme, announced on August 11. Everyone from business leaders and organisations to embassies to affected individuals to Members of Parliament to the Sultan of Johor spoke out, some forcefully, saying the dramatic upheaval of the MM2H programme would backfire and ultimately cause harm to Malaysia’s economy and international reputation. By early September, the government announced it would indeed take another look at the revised requirements.
In the end, however, that turned out not to be the case, and the pleas for a more realistic set of MM2H requirements appear to have fallen on deaf ears.
Anyone hoping the government would back down on their planned changes to the rules and requirements for the MM2H programme is surely disappointed. In a question-and-answer session in parliament on September 14, Minister of Home Affairs Hamzah Zainudin made it clear that he does not want to change anything. It seems the pleas of many people and organisations to reconsider the new rules have not impressed him.
The only concession he made was that he would look at renewals from existing visa holders on a case-by-case basis. This implies the government will not approve all renewals and is willing to go back on their promise not to apply change in rules to existing visa holders. That will certainly not be received well internationally, and some business chambers fear it will discourage foreign direct investment when they learn Malaysia does not keep its promises.
What is perhaps more damaging for Malaysia is that there were literally thousands of people waiting to apply for the new programme who would have collectively brought the equivalent of billions of ringgit in foreign currencies into the country. Most will now not come here, but will instead look at the many other competitive programmes being offered around the world. We expected as many as 20,000 applications to be made after the borders were opened, but that will probably drop to the low hundreds and quite possibly even lower.
We conducted a survey among our readers and received 488 replies from people planning to join the MM2H programme. Only 17 of them were able and willing to meet the new terms. The vast majority could not meet the new conditions, but even the few who could were generally unwilling to place the required fixed deposit. The reason for this is quite simple – it pays a very low interest and because the ringgit has been declining in value over many years, the deposit will most likely fall in value (in terms of the applicant’s home currency) when it matures.
We have received a lot of correspondence from visa holders who are now currently looking at alternative programmes offered by countries with more friendly terms. Some have already asked us to arrange cancellation of their visas. Thailand has just announced a new programme which some people may find attractive and many believe this programme will likely be very successful. We plan to do more research into other programmes so people can consider alternative destinations. Before doing that, however, we think people should consider the Sarawak (S-MM2H) programme which has much more realistic terms,and does not mandate residence in Sarawak (though visa holders must spend a minimum of 15 days per year there). We have partnered with businesses in that state to help promote that programme and are waiting for clarification on a few key points.
Unfortunately, among other concerns, it seems that the current government thinks the programme is a potential threat to national security. Of course, that risk applies to all foreigners and even Malaysians. We see no elevated risk from MM2H visa holders and existing security checks seem quite adequate. We certainly do not believe that attracting wealthier people correlates to reduced security risks. There are other ways for them to conduct criminal activities here. It’s worth noting that Hamzah specifically said that the changes to MM2H were aimed at attracting “high-quality participants,” which cannot be a welcome comment for the MM2Hers currently living in the country. Apparently, merely being very wealthy means you’re of high quality.
What is perhaps surprising is that despite the programme becoming more exclusive and aiming to appeal to the very rich, the terms offered are less attractive:
- The visa duration has been reduced from 10 years to five.
- The previous programme described the MM2H programme as offering a 10-year renewable visa, but it is not so clear that the new programme offers that assurance of renewal.
- The previous programme assured applicants that new rules would not be applied to them, but that promise has been broken making the visa a lot less appealing.
The pandemic also highlighted the fact that the government regarded the MM2H visa holders as the least important of all the foreigners living here with a visa. Time and time again when other visa holders were allowed back into the country, MM2H visa holders were refused entry, with no reason offered. Those whose visas expired while they were locked out were told they could not return until the borders open. This was particularly hard for those people who had taken up the government’s offer to make Malaysia their home and relocated everything here and made it their only home.
In summary, it is easy to understand why an increasing number of expats are saying Malaysia no longer wants them living here and are now looking for other options. The MM2H pass was rightly regarded as one of the world’s best retirement visas, but we fear it will now receive much less favourable reviews.
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