The outrageous manner in which MM2H visa holders have been treated lately certainly raised a number of questions. Unfortunately, answers seem to be hard to come by.
For many months now, we have been asking when the government will allow Malaysia My Second Home (MM2H) visa holders – who have repeatedly been refused entry – back into the country. There is not a huge number who are locked out (we estimate at under a thousand), but it has been a very distressing time for some of them and incredibly damaging to the programme and to Malaysia’s international image.
Last year, 23 countries were identified as having a high number of Covid-19 cases and restrictions were placed on any foreigners, even those who have homes in Malaysia, travelling back from those countries. After a short time, the restrictions were lifted for most categories of visa holders, but not for those with MM2H visas.
Then there were those who had left Malaysia after the borders were first closed in March last year, who found they were not permitted to return. Many had not realised it would be one way trip. It has always been hard for them to get information on the rules. Unfortunately, there are no business chambers, organisations, or even government ministries (after Tourism stepped back from the programme) who push for their rights, advocate for their interests, or highlight their problems. Our efforts have received little response, and the government does not engage with us.
Given that many of them had made their permanent homes in Malaysia, being locked out was a shock, and in some cases created serious hardship for them. The programme was marketed as a residential programme, with applicants encouraged to stay long term. The visa was described as ‘renewable’ and its long duration (10 years) and the fact they were assured no changes to the rules would apply to them caused some of them to sell up and completely relocate to Malaysia. This was the group that made the biggest economic contribution to Malaysia because they brought the most foreign exchange into the country to buy cars, houses, and support their lifestyles.
Additionally, they also proved to be fierce advocates for the country, spreading positive stories about Malaysia, which indirectly helped various local industries from healthcare to tourism, and even foreign business investment. Now they have been spreading far less favourable stories about the country and this was before the recent changes to the programme, which caused considerably more negative comments.
We tried to find out why this group was being refused entry when so many others were permitted to return, but received no answers. One senior diplomat asked the question and told us that a Minister advised him (presumably off the record) they did not want foreigners filling up Malaysia’s hospital beds. It seemed a logical response, as many of the visa holders were older and in the more vulnerable age groups, but it seems that even this was not a fact-based decision..
If their age was, in fact, the reason for keeping them out, it would be nice to see there was some evidence this group was falling ill and taking up precious ICU beds, but there does not seem to be any. In fact, we have not heard of any cases of MM2Hers in Malaysia having Covid 19, although we suspect there may have been a few. The fact they tend not to frequent the more crowded locations, like nightclubs, bars, and large family gatherings where the risk of catching the virus increases dramatically, means they are less exposed.
It was crushing news to be told they could not return to their homes, while other visa categories were allowed to return, even maids. At this point, some visa holders decided to exit the programme and the subsequent change to the programme rules made even more decide to leave. We are receiving many more messages from people planning to move elsewhere, with Thailand ranking high on people’s preferred lists. It is sad to see this group having their views changed so dramatically, and of course it is a big loss for Malaysia.
It also seems that there is some contradiction in the new programme. It is targeting high net worth individuals with a visa which certainly appears to be considered of low value. This limited right to residency comes on top of reducing the visa term from 10 to five years, no longer describing it as ‘renewable,’ and offering no assurance that future changes will not apply to them. It seems to us the programme is a lot less attractive than it was 10 years ago. It is not surprising so many expats are telling us they are convinced the government is trying to get rid of them.
Now the government is allowing Malaysians to travel overseas and visit any country that will have them. It raises the obvious question of why MM2H visa holders are still being refused entry.
We are also not sure what happens to current participants who cannot meet the new 90-day residency rule, because they were locked out of the country.
Malaysia is generally a wonderful country for expats, and our research shows how much people love living here. Three years ago, over 70% of visa holders we researched told us they wanted to spend the rest of their lives here. We doubt that would be the same today and quite possibly there are some in the new government who do not want them staying here, despite the fact they fully fund themselves.
We have been promoting Malaysia since we first started TEGmedia 26 years ago and the MM2H programme since it was launched. It has been very distressing to see so many negative messages from expats, and we wonder if the government fully appreciates how much damage has been done and what a challenge it will be to earn back the trust of the international community.
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