7th April 2024: SCMP – As Malaysia’s door closes on low-paid migrant workers, companies scramble for staff (and a systemically corrupt migration management and recruitment policy, devoid of the rule of law and leading to impunity and gross exploitation, is revealed)

SCMP - As Malaysia’s door closes on low-paid migrant workers, companies scramble for staff (and a systemically corrupt migration management and recruitment policy, devoid of the rule of law and leading to impunity and gross exploitation, is revealed)

SCMP 7th April 2024: As Malaysia’s door closes on low-paid migrant workers, companies scramble for staff (and a systemically corrupt migration management and recruitment policy, devoid of the rule of law and leading to impunity and gross exploitation, is revealed)

  • A freeze on new migrant-worker applications in Malaysia has employers warning of looming labour shortages and having to turn to the black market
  • Yet hundreds of thousands of migrants are already in the country and can’t find legal work – duped into moving with promises of non-existent jobs

As Malaysia prepares to slam the door on new applications from low-paid migrant workers from abroad, employers are warning of looming labour shortages in everything from curry houses to barber shops and beyond.

While the country has rolled out the red carpet for well-heeled expatriates with a golden-visa scheme, the migrant labourers who take up agriculture, factory and service jobs deemed too low-paying for locals are finding themselves increasingly shut out of the system – and subject to random police detention, poor pay and few labour protections.

A freeze on migrant-worker applications from March 31 was extended last week – after the deadline had already passed – until April 21, following a backlash from businesses as they rushed to source workers mainly from BangladeshNepaland Myanmar.

Malaysia to slash migrant workforce amid vitriol, Bangladeshi job scam crisis: SCMP 11 Mar 2024

The new rules were introduced, at least in part, because of the fallout from a major job-scam crisis that saw some 200,000 workers, mainly from Bangladesh, arrive in Malaysia only to find the vacancies they had paid several thousand US dollars to fill did not exist.

Earlier, the Malaysian Indian Restaurant Owners Association (Primas) had issued a joint statement with 22 other trade groups calling for the government to push the deadline back to September, arguing that filling job vacancies had been difficult and the freeze on hiring migrant workers would force businesses to turn to the black market for labour.

“It is difficult to find workers in source countries within such a short time and employers will likely panic as a result, leading them to seek out the services of illegal agencies,” said Primas president Govindasamy Jayabalan in the statement. “This could lead to employers hiring less qualified foreign workers out of desperation.”

Migrant workers from Bangladesh and Myanmar work as general labourers at a wholesale market in Kuala Lumpur. Photo: Shutterstock

April 21 now marks the last day employers can get visa approval for new migrant workers, ahead of a May deadline to bring them into the country.

According to the government, the decision to halt recruitment is based on the metric of not allowing migrant workers to exceed 15 per cent of the total workforce by 2025, with the country of around 34 million already hosting some 2.17 million foreigners.

Speaking in parliament on March 26, Human Resources Minister Steven Sim defended the hiring freeze, saying government quotas had already almost been hit.

“Any decision on reopening of the foreign workers quota will be made after the government has the full details of the quota of workers who have not entered the country by May 31,” he said.

Construction workers paint a building in Kuala Lumpur. Malaysia has been heavily reliant on migrant workers since it began to rapidly industrialise in the late 1980s. Photo: EPA-EFE

Malaysia has been heavily reliant on migrant workers since it began to rapidly industrialise in the late 1980s, with many locals nowadays shying away from jobs in sectors such as agriculture and construction, which are perceived as “migrant work”.

This has led the government to conjure up novel ways to entice locals into such jobs. Plantation and Commodities Minister Johari Abdul Ghani recently mooted the idea of renaming plantation workers “specialised harvesters” to circumvent the stigma.

As businesses rushed to bring in foreign workers before the hiring deadline, immigration offices have been overcrowded and the online Foreign Workers Centralised Management System has struggled to cope with demand, according to people familiar with the matter.

For migrant rights activist Adrian Pereira, enacting a blanket freeze on hiring is not only “dangerous”, it is counterintuitive to having a quota system in the first place.

“The moment movement is stopped, there will be more problems: traffickers will start getting into action, smuggling will increase,” he said, calling the freeze a “mad idea”.

“If the government agencies who set the quotas do their job, why do they need to freeze?”

Pereira panned the government’s move as a “knee-jerk reaction”, coming as it did a little over a year after most restrictions had been lifted on employers hiring from a list of 15 countries to fill a labour shortage stemming from the pandemic.

“The country’s gross domestic product will increase by 1 per cent if we can speed up the hiring of foreign workers to meet the needs of relevant sectors,” Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim said in January last year, as he announced the earlier easing decision.

Malaysian Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim had lauded the move to “speed up the hiring of foreign workers” in January last year. Photo: dpa

Since then, more than 1 million quota applications for foreign workers have been approved, mostly in the construction and manufacturing sectors, followed by plantations and agriculture.

It also led to a glut of migrant workers being brought into the country with promises of non-existent work. They number upwards of 200,000, according to migrant activist Andy Hall, with many now undocumented, destitute and stuck in debt bondage – a form of modern slavery.

“They are desperate for any jobs or income they can get, to survive, to eat and to remit money to their families to pay off the extortionate and ever-increasing interest on their debt” that can reach as high as US$6,000 per person, Hall said.

But few employers in Malaysia are likely to hire such workers, he said, as their debt and destitution makes it difficult to draw up legally binding employment contracts due to an assumed lack of informed consent.

Malaysia has got itself into a real mess here with a systemically corrupt migration management and recruitment system devoid of the rule of law and full of impunity

Andy Hall, migrant activist

On February 27, an investigation was launched into a construction company after 93 Bangladeshi migrant workers were rescued from a derelict shophouse in Kuala Lumpur. They had been brought to Malaysia by the company under a quota scheme but ended up without work or income.

Earlier, 171 Bangladeshi workers marched to a police station in the oil-and-gas hub of Pengerang, Johor state, to lodge a report against their employers who they accused of similarly duping them into coming to Malaysia.

“Malaysia has got itself into a real mess here with a systemically corrupt migration management and recruitment system devoid of the rule of law and full of impunity,” Hall said.

The problem, however, is hardly new.

Malaysia firm probed for human trafficking after foreign workers found abandoned: SCMP 27 Feb 2024

In a food court in Petaling Jaya, west of central Kuala Lumpur, stall owner Sarah laments having to go back into the kitchen to run things after her Bangladeshi employee Ibrahim decided to take advantage of an amnesty offer, which allows undocumented migrants and those who have overstayed their visas to leave Malaysia without prosecution or any questions asked.

“Ibrahim used to run this place all on his own, but now – as you see – my whole family is helping out to keep the business running,” said Sarah, who did not give her real name for fear of repercussions from hiring an undocumented migrant.

Admitting what she did was wrong, she said it was the best option she had.

Like most undocumented workers, Ibrahim came to Malaysia legally as a construction worker before being swindled by his employers, leaving him destitute with no legal paperwork and having to scramble for illegal employment.

His friend Bilal at the drinks stall nearby is similarly taking the amnesty offer, saying that he is tired of dodging immigration raids after so long.

“I’ve been detained many times, I had to pay money to be released,” he said. “But enough, this is my last month here.”

Background Reading:

6th April 2024 Daily Star: A hostel of nightmares for Bangladeshi migrants allegedly trafficked by criminal syndicate for forced labour in Malaysia (and Daily Star Op Ed)

26th March 2024: The Star – Freeze on foreign workers hiring quota in Malaysia stays for now, says HR Minister (with estimated 200,000+ surplus foreign workforce victims facing destitution and abuse)

25th March 2024: Bangladeshi workers (alleged victims of criminal syndicate trafficking Bangladeshi workers for forced labour in Malaysia) claim being coerced into withdrawing police and labour complaints

Daily Star 25th Mar: Malaysia employer framed Bangladeshi workers

Daily Star 24th Mar 2024: Jailed in Malaysia – 3 Bangladesh workers released

Editorial Prothomalo 24th Mar 2024: Malaysian labour market – Take action against the fraud syndicate

FMT 23rd March 2024: PSM calls on Sim to look into arrest of Bangladeshi workers

MALAYSIAKINI 23 Mar 2024: Stranded foreign workers (alleged victims of criminal syndicate trafficking Bangladeshi workers for forced labour in Malaysia) nabbed after labour complaints against employer

23rd March 2024 The Star: Half a million vulnerable and irregular foreign workers disappear from Malaysia’s migrant worker regularization programme as deadline looms in one week

23 Mar 2024 The Star: Verification rate lags as RTK 2.0 deadline approaches

22nd March 2024 Malay Mail: Home minister – Over RM9m in fines collected so far through migrant repatriation programme

22nd March 2024 Protomalo: Malaysian labour market set to be closed again due to syndication

20th March 2024: 93 duped/detained Bangladeshi migrant workers in Malaysia have jobs now, says immigration DG

20th Mar 2024 Business Standard: Bangladeshi workers’ plight in Malaysia: Coalition of migration orgs demand action against recruiting agency syndicate

19th March 2024: FMT – Plantation firms wary of ‘forced labour’ concerns in hiring 200,000 surplus foreign workers/criminal syndicate victims in Malaysia, says minister – indeed he’s right, who wants to take on destitute foreign workers often with US$4-7000 in debt?

17th March 2024: FMT – Malaysia’s treatment of migrant workers utterly shameful

New Age 16th Mar 2024: Bangladeshi government must mend issues to keep Malaysia job market open

15th March 2024 SCMP: Malaysians deride minister’s idea to rebrand palm oil workers as ‘specialised harvesters’

14th March 2024: The Star – Opinion: When work in Malaysia is a con – the criminal syndicate trafficking Bangladeshis for forced labour in Malaysia

FMT 13th March 2024: Bangladeshi migrants file police reports after falling victim to job scam/criminal syndicate trafficking workers from Bangladesh for forced labour in Malaysia

12th March 2024: SCMP – Malaysia to slash migrant workforce amid intolerance, job scam crisis involving Bangladeshi labourers

FMT 11th Mar 2024: Duped migrant jobseekers, victims of alleged criminal syndicate trafficking Bangaldeshi workers to Malaysia for forced labour, face mental health issues, says Malaysian ex-MP

Daily Star Editorial 10th March 2024: Migrating to a life of unemployment

Daily Star 10th Mar 2024: Distressed in Malaysia – Thousands of Bangladeshi migrants jobless, unpaid or underpaid 

9th March 2024: Malay Mail – Activists warn rushed 31st March visa deadline in Malaysia could force firms to source foreign workers unethically (includes my commentary on the abrupt policy change)

9th Mar 2024 The Star: No extension of May 31 foreign worker deadline

NST 9th Mar 2024: Keep recruitment agencies in a list rather than shutting them down, govt told   

See also NST 9th Mar 2024: Sourcing migrant workers takes time, ‘not like buying cattle’, employer groups tell govt

NST 8th Mar 2024: Eliminate middlemen from migrant worker recruitment process, govt told

Star 8th Mar 2024: May 31 deadline for foreign workers recruitment under recalibration programme remains, says Saifuddin

Malay Mail 8th Mar 2024: Saifuddin Nasution: No more agents for Bangladeshi worker recruitment

6th Mar 2024: Malaysian government halts foreign worker entry into the country from 31st May 2024 (final calling visa/VDN approval issuance deadline 31st March 2024) as migrant worker management crisis worsens and victims of gross exploitation, unemployment and destitution rise significantly

6th March 2024: Business Times –Sudden change in foreign worker policy by Malaysian government leaves industry in limbo

6th Mar 2024 Edge: Foreign worker intake deadline changes will leave manufacturers in the lurch, says FMM

6th Mar 2024 FMT: Industry players shocked by foreign worker policy change, says FMM

Mar 5 2024: NCCIM urges govt to review unused foreign worker quota deadline

4th March 2024 URGENT call for donations/support: joining forces with HOPE SELANGOR to fill gap in providing humanitarian aid and assistance to victims of criminal syndicate trafficking Bangladeshi workers into forced labour in Malaysia

Mar 3rd 2024: Concern on repatriation of potential trafficking and forced labour/abuse victims under Malaysian Migrant Worker Repatriation Programme Commencing 1st March 2024 (Statement by Andy Hall, Independent Migrant Worker Rights Specialist)

FMT 3rd Mar 2024: Ensure ‘crooks’ do not gain from repatriation programme, says activist

Mar 2nd 2024 The Star: A chance for illegals to go home

Mar 2nd 2024 The Star: Sarawak immigration extends RTK2.0 until June

Mar 1st 2024 FMT: 600,000 foreign workers urged to take easy exit home

Mar 1st 2024 The Star: Use repatriation programme to return home, 600,000 illegals told

Feb 28th 2024 The Star: New programme lets migrants off the hook without being prosecuted

Feb 25th 2024 The Star: Businesses want foreign worker hiring freeze lifted

Jan 31st 2024 NST: Govt to implement Migrant Repatriation Programme starting March

Jan 31st 2024 The Edge: Cabinet agrees to extend freeze on hiring of foreign workers, says home minister 

31st Jan 2024 FMT: Migrant repatriation programme set for March 1

31st Jan 2024 The Star: Migration Repatriation Programme to commence on March 1, says Home Ministry

FMT 6th Jan 2024: 171 duped migrant workers deserve compensation, govt told (includes my full statement)

5th Jan 2024: New Strait Times – MCA: Don’t just fine employers, hold ministry accountable as well for unemployed foreign workers

FMT 30th Dec 2023: Migrants being duped into Malaysia because of govt’s failure to curb criminal trafficking syndicates and organised crime network, says activist Andy Hall

30th Dec 2023: New Strait Times – Recruitment agencies accused of deception as Bangladeshi victims speak out on exploitation and fear

29th Dec 2023: Malay Mail – Set up probe on exploitation of migrant workers and new ministry to manage their affairs, Suhakam tells Putrajaya

28th Dec 2023: FMT – Malaysia has entered ‘slave labour’ territory, says ex-MP – Charles Santiago calls for specific set-ups to manage migrant workers 

27th Dec 2023: New Strait Times – MTUC demand govt, MACC probe into corrupt recruitment practices of foreign workers

26th Dec 2023: FMT – High recruitment fees make greedy agents bring in workers, says group

25th Dec 2023: FMT – Probe recruitment agents, MACC told after arrest of Bangladeshis

22nd Nov 2023: MALAYSIAKINI – Full probe of migrant worker syndicate, Malaysian HR Minister Sivakumar says

9th Nov 2023: Malaysia – The State of the Nation: Flaws of foreign worker system laid bare in declassified report

30th Oct 2023: FMT: Andy Hall refers stranded Bangladeshi workers’ plight in Malaysia to UN Human Rights Council

23rd Oct 2023: RESPONSE FROM THE MINISTRY OF HUMAN RESOURCES IN REGARDS TO AN ARTICLE BY MR. ANDY HALL/HR Minister – strict actions against employers who fail to comply with Malaysia’s labour and immigration laws

20th Oct 2023 Malaysiakini: Long-awaited foreign worker management report declassified in Malaysia (my comments added)

19th Oct 2023: Malaysia facing huge excess of 1/4 million migrant laborers

21st Sep 2023: Malaysian government has 15 source countries for foreign workers – Comments by Andy Hall

20th Sep 2023: Rate of abused Bangladeshi workers’ entry into Malaysia worrying, says migrant rights activist Andy Hall

12th July 2023: excellent final offering from a 4 part account of atypical modern-day slavery, forced labour and abuse perpetrated against a group of migrant workers from Bangladesh in Malaysia, written concisely and passionately by former MP from Malaysia Charles Santiago

Aljazeera News TV 10th July 2023 – Migrants in Malaysia: Hundreds left stranded in recruitment scam

Reuters 11th Apr 2023: In Malaysia, migrants say they are in limbo after promised jobs fall through

25th April 2023 Sarawak Post: Malaysia And Modern Slavery – ‘PM Must Take Control’

23rd April 2023: REUTERS: Malaysia probes cases of migrant workers left jobless, without passports (with background summary and articles included in my blog post)

17th April 2023 Daily Star: Approval For Labour Recruitment – Malaysia’s transparency questioned by Bangladesh

FMT 13th April 2023: Stranded Bangladeshis endure ‘hell’ in Malaysia – The group of 35 now wants to go home after being left without jobs for months

11th Mar 2023 MALAYSIAKINI: Malaysian HR Minister Sivakumar – Zero checks for migrant quota approvals only until March 2023

13th Feb 2023: My Perspective published by FMT – ‘Time to address corruption in Malaysia’s migrant worker management’

10th Jan 2023: ‘Bangladeshi recruitment cartels’ grip must end’ – Govt now acting on billion-ringgit ‘human trafficking syndicates’

1st Oct 2022 Malay Mail: PM Anwar says Putrajaya to Ease Rules on Hiring Migrant Workers

7th July 2022 The Vibes: How Bestinet courted controversy over migrant worker recruitment – MACC’s raid on IT company once again casts spotlight on alleged hiring monopoly

June 2022 The Star: Human Traffickers made RM2 billion through syndicate smuggling in over 100,000 workers from Bangladesh

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