KUALA LUMPUR (THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - The Malaysian immigration department has been swamped with thousands of foreign workers and their employers in the last few days as they try to apply for work permits before a registration deadline on Friday (June 30).
The authorities say they will, from Saturday (July 1), begin the rounding up and deportation of foreign nationals who are in Malaysia without valid work or visitor documents.
Malaysia is a popular destination for migrant workers aiming for blue collar jobs, whether as office cleaners or factory workers, in sectors ranging from construction to plantations.
South-east Asia's third biggest economy, with its 32 million population, has some 2 million registered foreign workers and over 1 million more who work without work permits.
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Most of them are from neighbouring Indonesia, with large pools of Bangladeshi and Nepalese nationals, and Rohingyas from Myanmar.
Malaysian officials in February said they would allow the illegal workers to change their status by registering their presence at the immigration department, with a June 30 deadline.
But most waited until the last days of June to register for the so-called E-cards, causing the recent hordes and long queues at immigration offices.
"They have had plenty of time since Feb 15. Due to their stubbornness and negligence, they have left it until the last minute and that is not our fault," said Immigration director-general Mustafar Ali on Thursday (June 29).
Many of the workers came with their employers in tow.
A wall-plaster contractor known only as Teoh was at the Port Klang immigration office on Thursday to register his Bangladesh workers. "They are good workers, and that is difficult to find these days. But if they don't have legal documents, we'll get into trouble," he said.
Officials say there are 600,000 foreign nationals working illegally in Malaysia who are eligible to apply for work permits, but that only some 155,000 had done so by Thursday (June 29).
The annual deportation of immigrant workers are usually carried out in the weeks after Hari Raya Puasa, to allow many of these workers to return home of their own accord just before the Muslim festival.
Officials warned that the crackdown on illegal workers will start as soon as Saturday (July 1), despite appeals by employers for the deadline to be extended.
Datuk Seri Mustafar told reporters on Friday (June 30): "We are going all out to arrest, fine and deport them back to their home countries. No more mercy."