KUCHING: The Immigration Department is stepping up enforcement against illegal immigrants to stem the expansion of their presence in Sarawak.
State immigration director Ken Leben said while the number of legal foreign workers decreased by 8% from 166,817 in 2015 to 154,864 last year, a rising number of illegal immigrants were arrested from 2014 to 2016.
He said the department arrested 1,212 illegal immigrants in 2014, 1,888 in 2015 and 2,190 last year from 234, 494 and 669 operations respectively.
“It is hard to estimate the number of illegal immigrants accurately, but an indication can be gauged from the results of many exercises carried out to stop their inflow last year.
“From our inspections, there will be one illegal immigrant out of every 13 people inspected. So based on the figure of 155,000 legal foreign workers, we estimate that there are 12,000 to 15,000 illegal immigrants in the state,” he told a press conference here yesterday.
Ken said the department planned to carry out 1,000 daily enforcement operations this year to weed out illegal immigrants.
“We will focus on sectors more prone to employ illegal immigrants, namely plantations, construction and manufacturing,” he said.
As of Mar 21, a total of 219 operations have been conducted with 4,148 people inspected and 690 arrested, the majority from Indonesia.
Their offences included illegal entry into the state without a valid pass, overstaying and abuse of visit pass or work pass.
Ken also said the department was conducting a comprehensive programme on compliance of its standard operating procedures (SOP) to protect the integrity of the immigration system.
“We are taking steps to refine the SOP by setting up committees to handle applications for professional visit passes, spouse programme and domestic maids.
“We are also carrying out job rotation by transferring officers who have served for a year in one unit to another unit,” Ken said.
In addition, he said the department was conducting awareness programmes on the engaging of foreign workers through dialogues with various agencies, employers, NGOs, consulate offices and community leaders.
This is aimed at creating a culture of compliance among employers and encourage whistleblowers, he said.
Other measures include setting up a special task force led by the state security unit to curb the presence of illegal Suluks from the Philippines, deploying enforcement officers regularly to entry points and implementing the “3+1” amnesty exercise, under which illegal immigrants who have overstayed or do not have a valid pass are given specific periods to leave the country without being charged.
On North Korean workers in Sarawak, Ken said he could not comment on it as it was an issue between two nations.
Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Dr Ahmad Zahid Hamidi recently said 50 North Koreans in the state whose work permits had expired would be deported soon.
He had said they were being held at an immigration detention depot.