Singaporean to return after 13 years as overstayer in JB

58-year-old went there in 1999 to care for dad but failed to apply for new passport

A SINGAPOREAN odd-job man who spent 13 years as an illegal immigrant in Johor Baru is finally coming home, ending a story worthy of any soap opera.

Mr Chan Keng Mun, 58, went across the Causeway to live with and look after his ageing father. But when his old Singapore restricted passport was invalidated on Dec 31, 1999, he failed to apply for an international passport.

He remained undetected until after his father died in 2011, at which point his stepbrother - allegedly worried about his share of his late father's estate - threatened to report him to Malaysia's immigration authorities.

They could have fined him the equivalent of around $4,000, jailed him for up to five years or both.

Fearing arrest, he turned to the Malaysian Chinese Association (MCA) - part of the ruling Barisan National coalition - to help in his plight.

The MCA, and particularly former Stulang state assemblyman Mok Chek Hou, empathised with his case and over the next 21/2 years, fought to help Mr Chan make the short journey home.

Mr Mok called a press conference this week to tell Mr Chan's story - and admitted the battle to send him home was fraught with "obstacles".

He explained how he helped to mitigate Mr Chan's penalty with the assistance of Johor State Immigration and enlisted the help of Mr Lim Hong Huai, Singapore's consul-general in Johor, to expedite Mr Chan's status review.

The plea with the immigration authorities led him to escape detention. Mr Chan was placed under Malaysia's 6P legalisation and amnesty exercise, which grants special treatment for illegal immigrants. He was let off with a fine of RM400 (S$158).

Meanwhile, Mr Chan's status was reviewed by the Singapore authorities, who asked about his family background and whether he had adopted Malaysian citizenship.

Mr Chan was this month issued a new passport and will also get a new identity card in July, said Mr Mok.

When contacted, Mr Mok admitted to The Straits Times that Mr Chan was "too lucky" and that the length of time he managed to evade the authorities "caught me by surprise".

He added: "My advice is not to try this kind of trick. Don't try to overstay or you may ultimately have to pay a very heavy price."

Mr Chan specialises in repairing electrical installations and had gone to look after his father, who had lived alone in Johor Baru, at his request after his siblings refused to do so.

His restricted passport meant he had to shuttle in and out of Singapore every two weeks until those passports were phased out at the turn of the millennium. His father soon remarried but died in 2011, at which point his stepbrother intervened.

"I was scared of his threats and didn't know what to do," Mr Chan said at a press conference on Tuesday.

Calls to Mr Chan by The Straits Times yesterday went unanswered. It is believed that he is still in Malaysia and it is not known when he will return to Singapore.

An Immigrations and Checkpoint Authority of Singapore spokesman, declining to comment on specific cases due to confidentiality, said the onus lies on the individual to prove his identity and citizenship status. He added that under the Immigration Act, Singapore citizens have the right of entry once the above have been verified.

The Straits Times understands the process Mr Chan faced is necessitated for returning citizens whose passports have expired and who have been away for a long time. As dual citizenship is illegal here, documented proof that the person has not taken citizenship in the host country is also needed.

waltsim@sph.com.sg