Many people are still struggling to understand the actions and comments of the home minister regarding the beleaguered MM2H programme.
On January 21st, Minster of Home Affairs Hamzah Zainudin opened the new MM2H Executive Lounge Centre and used the occasion to again reject the idea that the new rules for the programme would deter applicants for the Malaysia My Second Home visa.
Despite widespread criticism that the onerous new programme requirements will turn off applicants – complete with research backing this up – Hamzah has consistently rejected any suggestions to modify the new rules. He says he wants to attract ‘quality’ applicants and, by his definition, ‘quality’ means applicants who make over RM40,000 a month and are willing to put RM1 million on fixed deposit, all for a five-year visa.
Despite well-reasoned arguments from various experts that the terms are much too harsh and restrictive, which will result in Malaysia losing needed revenue to other countries, Hamzah remains unconvinced. He clearly believes that the new programme will be an even stronger contributor for the various sectors which benefit from the money they bring into the country.
THE NEW MM2H PROGRAMME WILL NOT ATTRACT MANY APPLICANTS
At TEG Media, we stand by our assertion that the new MM2H rules are very likely to be a detrimental step for the country’s economy and even its international image, with the added undesirable effect that it could also curtail foreign direct investment. Our research showed that nearly all the people who had planned to join the new programme have now decided not to proceed. We reach thousands of MM2H visa holders and prospects through our various media, and our recent survey seeking views on the new conditions received some nearly 1,500 replies from existing MM2H visa holders and prospects.
Overwhelmingly, they either could not meet the RM40,000 monthly income requirement (not surprising since many are retirees) or, for those who did have that kind of income, were not willing to place the RM1,000,000 fixed deposit. In total, less than 2% said they were willing and able to join the programme under the new conditions. This indicated that the new requirements would have a devastating effect on the core group of applicants previously targeted by the Ministry of Tourism, which is the retirees who relocate here. Obviously, the ones who settle in Malaysia make a bigger contribution than those who visit occasionally. Another sizeable group of MM2H visa holders are parents accompanying their children for an international education. Many of these are still working and so some can meet the income requirement, but most are apparently not willing to place the larger fixed deposit.
The reason is simple: The fixed deposit of RM1,000,000 far exceeds the requirements of competitive programmes and basically becomes a cost of entry. The interest paid is very low, currently below 2%. and the ringgit has been depreciating for many years from RM2.50 to the US dollar in the 1990s to well over RM4.00 to the dollar today. Even beginning investors know better than to place their money in a currency which depreciates in value and offers a very low return.
In addition to our survey results, nearly everyone who contacts our help desk, which has handled many thousands of enquiries over the last 18 years, has told us they cannot meet the new conditions. In the past, at least half the people contacting us were able to satisfy the old requirements, but now virtually all the potential applicants tell us either it is not possible or that they are not willing to place such a large fixed deposit.
In a particularly eyebrow-raising comment, Hamzah also was reported as saying they had received 111 MM2H applications since November, a number which he said proved the new terms were not causing any drop-off in interest or applications. To say the least, it was a surprising comment, as it was unclear where these applicants came from or how they applied. It seems local media did not push back on this assertion whatsoever, nor even ask many questions about it, but the comment was widely published as though it were factual, including by The Star with the headline “MM2H Rules No Deterrent.”
However, facts don’t necessarily support this statement. We have repeatedly asked when people could apply for the new MM2H programme, and the front-line immigration staff have consistently said it was not yet possible. We have, unsurprisingly, received a number of comments expressing scepticism as to the accuracy of the number Hamzah quoted, and we ourselves are confused by his statement.
MALAYSIA ALREADY LOSING OUT
During the pandemic, there were thousands of people who wanted to join under the old terms and conditions but it seems, from feedback we have received, that they are now choosing other places to settle, with frequent mentions of Thailand, the Philippines, Greece, Spain, and France, which make it easier to apply for a visa. We view this as a real loss for Malaysia.
The home minister was also reported as saying that that he expected the new programme to attract around 1,000 people a year, which he said was similar to the old programme. However, in the last five years, the old programme was operational, the number of approved applicants was over 4000 a year so his predicted figure, even if accurate, would represent a significant drop in applicants and be unlikely to contribute more to the economy than the old programme.
That raises the question of why make the changes if the net result is unlikely to be an improvement. Malaysia was repeatedly ranked as the best place in Asia to retire in International Living’s annual Global Retirement Index. This fact was frequently used by the Ministry of Tourism to market the programme. It was also great publicity for Malaysia. Regrettably, in the 2022 index we dropped out of first place in Asia, and worse still, into 15th place worldwide. Thailand, meanwhile, have made clear their interest in attracting foreigners with their new 10-year residency visa, and commensurate with that, have now taken the number one spot from Malaysia.
EXPATS LOOKING FOR EXITS?
We have received a lot of comments from expats working here who had planned to retire in Malaysia, but are now not able to do so. As one expat told us, “I was considered a quality person when my work visa was approved and when my company provided employment for over 200 Malaysians but now that I have reached retirement and my income has dropped, I am no longer considered welcome – that is sad news for me and my family.”
These actions also seem to be affecting direct foreign investment as some people believe the treatment of expats during the pandemic and the new MM2H restrictions, makes this a less attractive investment option than some neighbouring countries. In recent months, more and more expats are telling us they no longer recommend Malaysia as a place to invest, and in reality, it does appear that some companies and organisations are choosing other countries in which to set up their operations. There have been numerous stories in the local media in recent weeks of companies either pulling out of Malaysia or deciding to launch new operations in other countries – Indonesia, Singapore, and Thailand have all benefited from Malaysia’s apparently souring appeal.
Hamzah had previously stated that he wanted to limit the number of MM2H visa holders to 1% of the population, which would be just over 320,000 people. We estimate that the number of people currently living here with the MM2H visa is under 50,000 – and that’s after the programme has been running for over 20 years – which is a long way from the ceiling he introduced. Given these facts, it is hard to understand why the visa has been made so inaccessible.
People considering moving to a new country want to feel they are welcome. The problems many expats and MM2Hers experienced returning to their homes in Malaysia during the pandemic, combined with the apparent desire to reduce the already negligible number of people living here with the MM2H visa is giving foreigners the distinct impression that Malaysia is no longer offering them a warm welcome. The new MM2H Executive Lounge is apparently quite luxurious – presumably in a bid to attract those ‘quality’ applicants – but it remains to be seen how many people use it to apply for the new visa programme.
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