IT was a moment during a question and answer session at Invest Malaysia that became a talking point among the participants. A foreigner stood up and told the Prime Minister that he has been in Malaysia for five years and is happy in the country.
The message of his comment was how scores of people in his predicament who have been in Malaysia for much longer have not been able to secure a lasting foundation of a permanent residence (PR) or citizenship in Malaysia.
His story, like many others, echo of their want to remain in Malaysia and contribute to the country in their own way.
Many of them are professionals. A lot of talent are employed in managerial levels but they, in their own way, have been paying taxes, bought homes and started a family in the country. A number would have started their own business creating jobs for other Malaysians.
Their wish, which is to be granted PR or a long-term residence pass as a minimum, however, have gone unfulfilled for years and is a constant source of uncertainty for them.
Foreign talent should be viewed as a fillip to the nation's economy, much like the extent we go to draw in money into the economy.
Agencies such as MIDA are set up to bring in foreign direct investment into Malaysia, brokerages and investment banks go on roadshows to draw in capital into the stock market.
Rules on allowing foreigners to buy property in the country has been relaxed and it's only natural that the next extension should be the way we go about bringing in foreign talent into the economy on the longer term.
The need to rope in talent into Malaysia has been spelt out in the talent roadmap 2020 issued by TalentCorp and in that publication. The growing economy with aspirations of being a developed nation by 2020 will need talent, both from Malaysia and abroad, to makes that ambition a reality.
Improving the education system is the longer term strategy in getting homegrown quality talent who will emerge from our schools but there is also a need to be flexible now in granting a longer stay in Malaysia for foreign talent, which will also go some way of shoring up the declining number of expatriates that has become a cause of concern.
The report notes that immigration regulation is cumbersome and inflexible in allowing global talent to practise professionally in Malaysia.
Headway, however, is being made. A number of people in prominent positions have been given PR and a those with special talent have been granted residence passes which allow them to work in Malaysia for 10 years.
It's easier for the big fish to get PR but the criteria for allowing other foreigners to plant their roots in Malaysia should be spelled out a lot more clearly.
If a person is a high wage earner and taxpayer - in short a contributor to the economy - then there should be a more transparent and almost automatic mechanism to assess their application favourably for residence pass or permanent residence.
By doing that, then people will not have to lodge a public appeal to the Prime Minister to have their wishes of a PR granted.
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