Unkind cut for the Indian barber

KUALA LUMPUR: The days of the cheap Indian barber looks to be over. Some 4,000 barbers from India will not have their working visa renewed, and many are already heading home.

The Immigration Department stopped renewing visas as of June 15. “They are being sent home in stages, leaving a serious dent in the workforce,” said Malaysian Indian Hairdresser Owners Association (Mindas) secretary R. Rajasegharan.

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He said by June next year, traditional Indian barbershops in Malaysia may permanently go out of business unless they can recruit locals.

The Indian barbershops have already been unable to recruit new foreign workers since 2009 but as of June 15, even those who are already here are no longer allowed to renew their existing permits.

Rajasegharan said there are about 3,000 traditional Indian barbershops in Peninsular Malaysia and almost 50% of them might go out of business by June next year.

“The rest will likely have to close by December next year if no steps are taken to address the worker shortage,” he told a press conference yesterday.

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The closure of these shops will mark the end of a heritage trade.

“Many of these businesses have spanned three generations,” said Rajasegharan.

He said they had held talks with the three ministries – Home Ministry, Human Resources Ministry and Domestic Trade and Cost of Living Ministry.

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The good news from the talks is that renewals are allowed until June 15 although they had been scheduled to end on March 15.

The temporary work passes will be valid for a year. Once they expire, the workers will be repatriated.

In an Immigration Department circular sighted by The Star earlier this year, it was stated that the last date to extend the temporary work passes for workers in this sector was March 15, even if the passes had not reached their maximum validity period of 13 years.

“Apart from this extension, there are no other updates.

“This leaves traditional barbershop owners with a big question. What next?” said Rajasegharan.

Mindas, he said, had been asking for between 2,500 and 3,000 new workers to be approved in tandem with the annual extensions granted for those already here.

Asked if locals could fill the vacancies, he said they are not very keen on doing so and prefer managing the shops instead.

“We have advertised for barbers both physically and in job portals. Training was also offered but there were few takers.

“Without any help from the government, this could spell the end for the traditional Indian barber business in Malaysia,” he said.

Earlier this year, The Star reported that besides the traditional barber shop, the textile and goldsmith sectors are also affected by worker shortages and face permanent closure.

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