Malaysia offers amnesty to migrant workers

Updated On: Jun 08, 2011

The Government of Malaysia announced Tuesday that it will grant amnesty to up to 2 million migrant workers in the country illegally, allowing them to live and work freely, in an effort to combat labor shortages in the plantation and service industries.

The programme is scheduled to launch in July.

Report & Analysis: Malaysia to offer amnesty to illegal immigrants [AFP, 7 June 2011]

This announcement comes at a time when Malaysia is in talks with Australia over a new deal in which Australia would send asylum seekers to Malaysia.  Concerns have been voiced over Malaysia’s treatment of immigration detainees, and specifically the government’s policy of caning immigrants for immigration offences and petty crimes.

Report & Analysis: PM defends Malaysia deal amid Amnesty criticism [ABC News, 13 May 2011]

In 2009, the U.S. State Department ranked Malaysia as one of the 16 worst nations in the world for human trafficking and cruel treatment of illegal immigrants.

Report & Analysis: Malaysia amnesty for millions of migrant workers [Syndey Morning Herald, 8 June 2011]

The plan is also designed to help the government keep track of the foreign workers in the country, to help improve security, reduce human trafficking, and increase tax revenues.  Malaysia is often used as a staging ground for trafficking gangs that transport people from Afghanistan and Myanmar to Indonesia and Australia.

Additionally, the effort could increase the allure of Malaysia for investors, as it would broaden the legal labor pool from which employers can draw.  Investors have often complained about the labor shortages in Malaysia, and many Malaysian industries depend heavily on workers from Indonesia, India and Myanmar.  

Malaysia has been inconsistent on labor policy in the past, switching between offering limited amnesty to immigrants, and banning the hiring of foreign workers (which it did in 2009, in the manufacturing and service sectors), amidst fears of increased worker layoffs.

Singapore similarly offered a limited amnesty to foreign workers in the 1960s, and is generally seen to have become more competitive as a result.

Still, this plan has not been well received by all; some Malaysians have expressed fear of losing their jobs to cheap foreign labor.  The Malaysian branch of Amnesty International, meanwhile, is worried that the immigrants would be forced to pay exorbitant fees and taxes that are unreasonable given the exceptionally low wages they receive.

Report & Analysis: Malaysia considers amnesty for illegal immigrants [New York Times, 7 June 2011]

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