Malaysia to 'rehire' 2m illegal workers

These foreigners will get valid work permits from Feb 15

PUTRAJAYA • Two million illegal foreign workers in Malaysia will be given valid work permits from Feb 15, under the Home Ministry's "rehiring" programme.

Deputy Prime Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi said the authorities will implement the first phase for three months, to gauge the programme's effectiveness, according to the New Straits Times.

He said the programme ensures that employers can register their workers online directly, without relying on agents who would pocket levies from employers but fail to register their workers.

"This has caused the workers to overstay in the country," said Datuk Seri Zahid, who is also Home Minister, at a press conference yesterday. "At the same time, the levy was not paid to the government. Due to this, the government felt that the employers needed help."

Prime Minister Najib Razak announced on Jan 28 that the programme would allow illegal foreign workers to be given valid work permits, and the authorities to better monitor their numbers for security.

It will be rolled out across the country, including Sabah and Sarawak.

Dr Zahid said employers will not be penalised if they complete their workers' documentation online. They will, however, have to pay a levy. His ministry will meet employers and agents in two weeks to discuss the programme.

Malaysia has been trying to deal with an influx of illegal immigrants - mostly from neighbouring countries like Indonesia - over the years.

In 2011, it introduced an amnesty scheme allowing all illegal immigrants to register themselves. About 1.3 million came forward and 500,000 received work permits, while 330,000 were repatriated.

About half a million of those who registered subsequently failed to show up to be legalised or deported.

The authorities have launched crackdowns since, rounding up illegal foreign workers and sending them home.

Yesterday, Dr Zahid said his ministry would also meet employers after Chinese New Year to discuss higher levy rates for foreign workers. "We want to hear their point of view, but let us be reminded that this new move will contribute RM4 billion (S$1.3 billion) to the country's coffers," The Star reported him as saying.

Previously, foreign workers were placed in six tiers and charged a levy based on the sectors they worked in - such as manufacturing, construction, service, plantation and agriculture.

From this month, there are just two categories: manufacturing, construction and service sectors, with a levy of RM2,500 per worker; and plantation and agriculture sectors, with a levy of RM1,500.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 06, 2016, with the headline 'Malaysia to 'rehire' 2m illegal workers'. Print Edition | Subscribe