Launched and promoted primarily as a visa to attract foreign retirees to Malaysia, the once-popular MM2H visa has been repeatedly mischaracterised by senior government officials as an investment or entrepreneurial-focused programme.
As we have written before, the Malaysia My Second Home (MM2H) visa is frequently misunderstood, resulting in decisions that are detrimental to Malaysia. The latest changes imposed seemed to be focused on reducing the number of visa holders so they did not overrun the country, and a key point that was made at the time was the decision to limit the total number of people holding the visa to no more than one percent of the population. The reality was very different. Even after some 20 years, the number of people holding the visa was far short of one percent of the population so there were no concerns on that front. Indeed, even of that small number of MM2H visa holders, many did not even relocate to Malaysia. Moreover, the continuous phenomenon of people exiting the programme, either by choice or death, always kept the total number from growing too fast.
Unfortunately, the government’s efforts to curb interest in the visa was extremely successful and Malaysia saw a dramatic 90% drop in applications – and sadly its once-prominent position as a preferred destination for retirees to settle.
The MM2H visa programme was very appealing to many retirees and led to Malaysia being ranked as the best place to retire in Asia by International Living, a well-known magazine for people looking to live outside their own country. The Ministry of Tourism frequently mentioned Malaysia’s high ranking in their own marketing efforts – at least in the days when they had responsibility for promoting and administering the visa.
The decision was made to transfer responsibility for the visa to the Ministry of Home Affairs and they decided it was best to make the visa more exclusive hoping to attract ‘quality’ applicants. This resulted in a massive fall off in applicants. The reality is that the qualifying criteria was exceedingly high for retirees. One of the key attractions of Malaysia is that it is a low-cost country which offers a very attractive lifestyle for retirees. Collectively, they provide substantial amounts of foreign exchange, both through capital investments (like buying a car or house) and for their daily living expenditures within the country. In addition, they became unofficial ambassadors for Malaysia by spreading the word about the country’s attractions as a good place to live, visit, or invest.
All that came to an end when the new rules were introduced. Our MM2H help line continued to receive many enquiries about the visa, which nearly always ended with the potential applicant expressing amazement that the criteria for the visa was so much higher than all the other countries who offered similar programmes. Nearly all of them decided to relocate somewhere else
The programme did not just attract retirees, but also others who wanted to come and spend time here. This included people with a second home here which they wished to visit only part of the year, as well as some applicants who wanted to accompany their children who they enrolled in one of Malaysia’s excellent international schools. A few people came here hoping to work, but the rules regarding this were quite restrictive, requiring the applicant to apply for special permission and even then, only allowing them to work for a local company for a limited number of hours a week
In our opinion, it all pointed to the need for different visas to be created for different categories of applicants. A dedicated retirement visa seemed to make sense as the total number of retirees around the world is enormous and quite a few choose to relocate for one reason or another. What seemed to confuse authorities in some countries – including Malaysia – is that while the applicants may have reasonable savings, they do not necessarily have high monthly incomes. Most people experience a drop in income when they stop work, of course, though many find they have lower expenses, as well. If they are fortunate enough to continue to enjoy higher incomes and still wish to relocate, they will often choose one of the better-known and more-developed retirement locations.
MISCONCEPTIONS ABOUT MM2H PERSIST
Recently, a retired Malaysian government official was quoted in the national press as saying the new criteria for the MM2H visa should not be seen as a negative because it would deter “ventures that had limited value and insufficient potential for expansion and diversification.”
The official explained (incorrectly) that the MM2H initiative was tailored to attract foreign nationals keen on establishing Malaysia as their second home and operating base for their entrepreneurial pursuits, adding that “the focus was on attracting top-tier investments that would not only enrich investors, but also contribute to the nation’s economic landscape.”
If this visa was aimed at attracting investors, then that may be the case, but it has always primarily been promoted as a retirement visa, and had considerable success at attracting that audience. In total, it was a relatively small number of people who actually relocated here, but it kept growing as word spread about the country. The participants made a welcome contribution to Malaysia’s economic growth and their international image. MM2H was never intended to attract investors, as there are other visas available to do that.
This is not the first time that senior officials in Malaysia have been quoted as saying things which indicate they are confused about the objectives of the MM2H visa. When people within a country are confused, there are sure to be people outside Malaysia will also be confused. Unfortunately, as Malaysia started to close its door on applicants, other countries began recognising the huge potential from this group and launched their own visa programmes.
TOWARDS A BETTER MM2H
We have long advocated different visas for different categories of applicants, possibly still under the broader MM2H umbrella, but with different terms and conditions to make each visa relevant to the targeted audience. We have been researching MM2Hers for many years and this has enabled us to better understand them, as well as to estimate their contribution to Malaysia (financial and intangible). It soon became obvious to us why the programme is so beneficial to the country. Most applicants who relocate here are genuine retirees and bring their assets with them. Some are expats who have worked here and fell in love with the country and wanted to stay (or return). Of course, under the current programme, very few of them could meet the new terms and conditions and subsequently chose to move to other countries with more realistic terms.
Generally, most had the same fundamental profile, though: They wanted to live out the rest of their lives quietly in a pleasant environment with a friendly population. Malaysia tended to fit the bill, with the added bonus of excellent local cuisines, a central geographic location, and relatively low costs.
Sadly, the very positive image of Malaysia that the MM2H visa created over many years has been badly damaged in recent times. Malaysia has not only lost a lot of money, but has had its international image dented. It is certainly not too late to fix, and we hope the changes that are made to the visa when they are announced will fix some of those problems. It would help if influential people and decision-makers within Malaysia had the visa properly explained to them so they understood the programme’s requirements, objectives, and significant benefits it brings to the country.
Malaysia obviously decides who they want to live here and how they wish to benefit from the visa, but frequently do not seem to take into account the audience they are addressing. Right from the start, that’s where we came in. We became strong advocates for the MM2H programme because we were very happy to support something which we felt was truly, mutually beneficial. Malaysia derives a very real benefit from the programme and the applicants gain residential access to a country which has so much to offer them.
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