April 20th 2023: Malaysia probes cases of migrant workers left jobless, without passports

Recent developments outlined in this Reuters article below, with 1,000s if not 10,000s of foreign workers being left stranded, destitute and in conditions of acute modern slavery on entering Malaysia is not at all surprising. Indeed, it was highly predictable.

The situation for foreign workers entering Malaysia has significantly worsened in the past six months. 

Recruitment related fees and costs paid by impoverished foreign workers to secure entry and work in Malaysia has doubled or tripled since late 2022. For Bangladeshi workers, costs are now well above US$5, 000 per person again. Whilst for Burmese and Nepalese workers, costs have soared in recent months to almost US$3, 000 or more, a record high level. 

Malaysia recently scrapped all compliance checks on prospective employers of migrant workers seeking additional foreign worker quotas, in its rush to ensure an increase in the number of workers coming into the country under the new Anwar government’s announced Relaxation of Employment of Foreign Workers Plan. This has led to a proliferation of bogus employers, abusive Malaysian agents and corrupt officials working together to exploit prospective foreign workers desperate for work in Malaysia. 

In the past week, Malaysia’s Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) has also just announced several investigations and arrests relating to foreign worker management and foreign worker quota issuance issues in Malaysia, see below articles in summary.

I recently wrote an Opinion piece on these developments – see ‘Time to address corruption in Malaysia’s migrant worker management’ and other related articles listed below.


Reuters April 20, 2023 2:40 PM

Malaysia probes cases of migrant workers left jobless, without passports

By A. Ananthalakshmi and Rozanna Latiff

Migrant workers gather at the compound of their dormitory for a document check, during a joint operation by the Department of Labour and several other Malaysian government agencies on workers’ living condition and other criteria of forced labour and human trafficking, in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, March 17, 2022. REUTERS/Hasnoor Hussain

KUALA LUMPUR, April 20 (Reuters) – Malaysia has launched an investigation to uncover how hundreds of migrant workers arrived from South Asia without jobs, despite having paid steep fees to get employment, officials and rights groups said.

The issue revives concerns over labour abuses in Malaysia, a key manufacturing hub at the heart of the global supply chain that has faced several accusations in recent years over exploitation of workers.

Hundreds of workers from Bangladesh and Nepal have arrived since December after paying up to 20,000 ringgit ($4,500) to middlemen to get employment, officials of two rights groups who interviewed dozens of the workers told Reuters.

Many took loans to pay recruitment fees, but are unable to start repaying them without jobs or salaries, the activists said, adding that on arrival, their passports had been taken away by recruitment agents.

“These workers are at high risk of forced labour and severe destitution,” said independent labour activist Andy Hall, whose team has been in contact with the migrant workers.

Their plight was worsened by factors such as debt bondage, poor living conditions, isolation and limited freedom of movement after their passports were confiscated, he added.

The International Labour Organisation ranks deception, along with debt bondage stemming from the large recruitment fee, and passport seizure among its indicators of ‘forced labour’.

The Malaysian government is investigating the matter, said Asri Rahman, the director general of its labour department, but declined to provide details until completion of the inquiry.

Last week, V. Sivakumar, the minister for human resources, visited a group of 226 Bangladeshi and Nepali workers who had been in the Southeast Asian country for 40 days without the jobs they had been promised.

He described as “appalling” the crowded accommodation of the workers, and vowed to find them jobs at the earliest, but did not identify the provider of the facilities.


The investigation comes as the five-month-old government of Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim cracks down on corruption and looks to tackle labour abuse.

Two of Sivakumar’s aides were arrested by anti-graft authorities this month over an investigation into recruitment of foreign workers. He too was questioned, and has promised to co-operate.

Malaysia has faced accusations of forced labour in manufacturing and palm oil production over the years, including some by the United States, which banned imports from several of its firms for such practices.

Bangladesh – a key source of migrants for Malaysia – called for more transparency by Kuala Lumpur to prevent its citizens from being cheated of jobs.

“If the Malaysian government’s approval process for hiring foreign workers is transparent, not a single worker should be unemployed,” its High Commission, or embassy, in Malaysia said in a Facebook post on Saturday.

The high commission said it compelled an employer to provide jobs for some of the migrants, while still working to get jobs for the others.

A Bangladeshi official, speaking on condition of anonymity, told Reuters there were a “few hundred” of its citizens stuck in Malaysia without jobs.

The Nepal embassy said it was working to find employment for a group of 125 of its citizens who had been left similarly stranded, and had also received such complaints from others.

Reporting by A. Ananthalakshmi and Rozanna Latiff; Additional reporting by Ruma Paul in Dhaka; Editing by Clarence Fernandez

Background Articles on Current Malaysian Migration Debates/Worker Situation

Apr 20th2 officers at Malaysian mission in Bangladesh held in RM3.1m visa graft probe

Apr 19thMACC to possibly question political leader in HR Ministry probe (VIBES)

Apr 19thMalaysian HR Minister Sivakumar quizzed a second time by MACC (FMT) 

Apr 17thMinistry probing firm named in stranded Bangladeshis’ work visas (FMT)

Mar 21stOpinion – Political will needed to revamp intake of foreign workers in Malaysia (FMT)

Mar 18thApprovals for foreign workers suspended under further notice (FMT)

Mar 16th10 Bangladeshis held after ‘employer’ leaves them out in the cold (FMT)

Mar 3rd: HR Minister – Zero checks for migrant quota approvals only until March (Malaysiakini)

Feb 13th: My Opinion – Time to address corruption in Malaysia’s migrant worker management (FMT)

Feb 11th: Sub-agents, commissions, bribes and other woes of migrant workers in Malaysia (FMT)

Feb 9thHR minister to stop agencies from monopolising hiring foreign workers (Malay Mail)

Feb 8thGovt to allow hiring migrant workers without agents: PM Anwar (Vibes)

Feb 8thStop using agents to recruit foreign workers, says PM Anwar (FMT)

Jan 17thRelaxed rules for hiring migrants only for 5 sectors, says govt (FMT)

Jan 10th‘Bangladeshi recruitment cartels’ grip must end (Vibes)

Jan 10thGovt’s migrant recalibration scheme to continue till year-end (FMT)

Jan 10thApproval for foreign labour now takes only 3 days, says Saifuddin (FMT)

Jan 10thPM – Putrajaya eases rules on the hiring of foreign workers (Malay Mail)

Jan 10th: PM to ‘cleanse’ Malaysia’s foreign manpower hiring system by going digital (Malay Mail)

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