I REFER to the report “5,000 Malaysians are illegals in S. Korea” (The Star, March 13). To most Malaysians, this may come as a surprise but for someone like myself who has travelled to many countries, it is nothing new. I’ve met a lot of Malaysians who work illegally in many foreign countries.
I recently came back from a vacation in Europe where I took the bus from Paris to London with a friend who is Malaysian. There were four other Malaysians who were students in the bus. When we reached the London border control, all six of us were subjected to longer immigration checks compared to the other nationalities in the bus. I was asked by the UK border agent to show my cash, credit cards, flight tickets and my travel itineraries in Europe. I was also asked the same questions by a few other agents as they wanted to get consistent answers on the purpose of my visit to London, and that was for tourism.
Puzzled as to why only the Malaysians were being singled out for extra screening, I questioned the immigration agent. The immigration agent said there were many Malaysians overstaying in the UK and misused their tourist visa to work illegally. My friend asked the same question and got the same answer but the immigration agent gave him a stern warning to “make sure you and all the other Malaysians go back after your visa expires.”
It was really embarrassing for us when we re-entered the bus as all the other passengers had to wait for us while we were being questioned. I overheard someone speaking in Cantonese that the immigration agents must have thought we were terror suspects. I believe the other Malaysians in the bus were also embarrassed by the incident.
I know for a fact that there are many Malaysians who are overstaying and working illegally in Britain.
Last year, I went to Australia for a job assignment. I visited many cafes there and was surprised to see Malaysians working in almost every outlet. When I asked them about their work permits, they said they were on tourist visas.
I visited New Zealand and also found some Malaysians working illegally there. Most of them originally entered New Zealand on a working holiday visa.
The issue highlighted by The Star raises serious concerns among Malaysians. Those who often go abroad to work illegally do it for monetary gains. They choose not to care about the negative consequences of their actions.
There have been reports in Australia that Malaysians top the list of illegal workers in the country. Many have been caught using their tourist visa to work in farms and plantations. The number of Malaysians working illegally in Britain and even South Korea is also on the rise.
I remember asking a Malaysian working in a cafe in Melbourne if he was not afraid of being caught. He said: “Nope, the worst case scenario is that I’ll be deported and blacklisted from entering Australia.” He said the money he earned was worth the risks of being an illegal worker.
This raises an even more serious concern as these Malaysians who work illegally abroad have no idea of the permanent consequences of being deported. Applying for visas to other countries would be a problem and finding a job in Malaysia might also be difficult for them as some companies might consider staying illegally in another country and being charged for it as a criminal offence.
And worst of all, these selfish people leave a bad name for Malaysians abroad, like myself, who work with proper documents.
We are lucky that we have one of the most powerful passports in the world, and technically the most powerful passport in the developing world. This wouldn’t have happened without Wisma Putra’s constant efforts in promoting strong diplomatic ties with other countries.
However, we could lose our passport ranking if Britain, Singapore and countries in the Europe Union impose visas on Malaysians due to misuse of the visa free status by our citizens. It’s a shame that Malaysians don’t realise the hard work of Wisma Putra and our diplomats to ensure that our passport ranking remains powerful.
Most of the Malaysians who work illegally abroad may ignore all these as their main objective is to earn as much money abroad and then come back home. They have no idea that their actions would damage our reputation and might even affect foreign investments.
Here are some suggestions for Wisma Putra to fix this issue before it becomes worse.
1) Impose a travel ban on Malaysians who have been caught working illegally abroad. Ban them from applying for a passport for 10 years. This is necessary as, by their actions, they do not respect the Malaysian passport.
2) Abolish all working holiday programmes for Malaysians. I’ve met Malaysians in New Zealand who have continued to work there after their permit expired. Other countries that offer such programmes include Canada, the United States, New Zealand and Australia. These working holiday permits are often used by Malaysians as their ticket to work illegally abroad. Wisma Putra and the Immigration Department should introduce a volunteer-based or student exchange programme in collaboration with local universities so that young Malaysians can get some foreign exposure.
3) Wisma Putra needs to educate the public further on the consequences of working abroad illegally since it looks like most Malaysians are unaware of them. Some even assume that Malaysian embassies abroad would help those who are caught working illegally.