Current trends in transnational population flows in Malaysia: Issues, policy and challenges / Prof Azizah Kassim

Kassim, Azizah (2013) Current trends in transnational population flows in Malaysia: Issues, policy and challenges / Prof Azizah Kassim. In: International Population Conference on Migration, Urbanisation & Development, 8 July 2013, Faculty of Economics and Administration, University of Malaya, Kuala Lumpur. (Unpublished)

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In the last 40 years there has seen a substantial increase in Malaysia’s foreign pop. According to the last national census in 2010, out of a pop of 28.4 million, over 8.3% are non-citizens. The increase is mainly the result of labour inflow since the early 1970s due to Malaysia’s relatively better economic development and political stability which attract economic migrants and asylum seekers from within and outside the ASEAN region. This paper which focuses on current transnational flows in the country has the following objectives: 1. To provide an overview of transnational population flows in Malaysia in the last decade and identify major streams that are causing considerable concern to the state and the Malaysian public. The focus is on the low skill foreign workers, the largest category of migrants in Malaysia. 2. To examine public perceptions of foreign workers, how such perceptions are formed and what their impacts are on state policy. 3. To discuss the state policy on foreign workers, both legal and irregular, the objective of the policy and its strategies. 4. To highlight the challenges faced by the state in implementing the foreign worker policy. 5. To evaluate the achievement and shortcomings of the policy. The writer identifies five types of transnational inflows into Malaysia i.e. that of low skill migrant workers both legal and irregular; asylum seekers; expatriates; foreign students; and participants of Malaysia’s My Second Home (MM2H) project. Since 2007, these flows are taking place while Malaysia is actively promoting its tourism industry, by among other means, relaxing immigration controls such as by introducing visa on arrival procedure to tourists from certain countries. She lumps these inflows into two categories: firstly, what she terms as “welcome inflows” comprising expatriates, participants of Malaysia My Second Home (MM2H) project and foreign students; and secondly, “problematic inflows” involving legal and irregular foreign workers and asylum seekers. The paper is confined to the latter which accounts for about 98% of the foreign workforce in the country. Malaysia now has over 1.57 million legally recruited foreign workers from 14 countries who are employed in six sectors – construction, manufacturing, domestic maids, agriculture, plantations and services. It also has over 1.3 million irregular migrants of which 1.13million are in the workforce in addition to over 100,000 asylum seekers mainly from Myanmar. In previous decades irregular migrants arrived clandestinely and were undocumented, now most of them are pass abusers coming in on tourist or studen visa to overcome the time consuming bureaucratic procedures and the high cost of legal recruitment. In examining public perceptions of this problematic inflows of foreign workers (which include asylum seekers), the writer notes that such perceptions are fragmented and shaped by individual experience with foreign workers, direct interest in their employment, and by economics, political and/or socio-cultural context. While acknowledging the positive contributions made by foreign workers to Malaysia’s economic and social development, public perceptions on foreign workers in Malaysia appear largely negative and such perceptions which are often expressed in the national print and electronic media, in turn, shape state policy. The writer elaborates on the negative impact of foreign worker employment from the economic, political, security and social perspectives and explains how the state comes to grasp with these issues. Malaysia introduced its guideline on recruitment and employment of foreign workers (now popularly referred to as the foreign worker policy) in early 1990’s. The policy which has two inter-related objectives : to regulate the inflow of foreign workers and encourage legal recruitment; and to curb the expansion of irregular workers receives severe criticism from many quarters. Many academics and non-government organisations at the local and international levels view its implementation as a failure. The writer argues that the policy is partially successful in attaining its first objective. The number of legal workers increased from over 532,700 in 1993 to over 1.4 million in 2002 and reached its peak at over 2.04 million in 2007. Thenceforth their number declined gradually during the Asian financial crises and economic slowdown in the subsequent years as well as due to concerted effort by the government to reduce their number, to 1.57 million in 2012.In terms of curbing the expansion of irregular migrants, it has failed miserably. The number of illegal migrants escalated and remained consistently high in the last three decades. Over five million irregular migrants have been identified by the state since 1992 in addition to those still at large whose number cannot be ascertained. The writer contends that the failure is attributable to a number of factors. The policy on foreign workers has in-built weaknesses. Some of its terms and conditions are counterproductive – e.g. the prohibition to marry while the contract worker is in service and to take along family members are openly violated as it is against basic human needs. The implementation of the policy is riddled with problems. The long sea and land border makes surveillance and border control acutely difficult. Kinship links between cross border communities facilitate and abet illegal crossings, while transnational ethnic and kinship links facilitate and abet visa abuse. The prohibitive cost of legal recruitment and easy entry as students or tourists induced pass abuse activities by many economic migrants. Full and effective operation to root out irregular migrants is impossible due to their large number and inadequate space in the KDN depot to accommodate them at any one time while waiting for their case to be disposed off by the court and prior to their deportation. There is also the problem of systemic corruption among a few errant enforcement officers. Finally, employers and recruiting agencies often defy or subvert policy operations with impunity. The writer contends that the issue of illegal migrants will continue unless the state takes note of its root causes, of which the most important is the high cost of legal recruitment. She concludes that the dependency on foreign workers is expected to continue and it is urgent that Malaysia finds ways to overcome the problem of irregular migrants and come up with a policy that can be of benefit to the employers, workers, the Malaysian public and the state.

Item Type: Conference or Workshop Item (Paper)
Additional Information: National Population and Family Development Board(NPFDB) in collaboration with Population Studies Unit, Faculty of Economics and Administration, University of Malaya.
Keywords: transnational migration, transnational inflow, policy, Malaysia
Subjects: 300 Social sciences > 305 Social groups
Division/Agency/State: LPPKN - National Population and Family Development Board, Malaysia > Division of Population
Deposited By: Mrs Nor Azaian Abdullah
Deposited On: 26 Jul 2013 00:50
Last Modified: 20 Aug 2014 01:30

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