PETALING JAYA • Malaysian immigration officers will fan out across the nation in a major crackdown on illegal immigrants from today - the first under the Pakatan Harapan government.
An amnesty programme, which enables illegal immigrants to pay a RM300 (S$100) fine and then a RM100 fee for a special pass allowing them to return home, ended yesterday.
But local manufacturers and business owners say they are worried that the "uncertainty" over Malaysia's foreign worker policy may hurt their ability to manage operations.
There were more than 1.7 million foreigners working in Malaysia legally at the end of June last year, government data showed, with estimates showing that a further one million or more were working in the country illegally.
Most came from Indonesia, Nepal and Bangladesh.
Many overstayed after their work permits expired. It is this large undocumented group that is the target of the crackdown.
Malaysia is a magnet for migrant workers due to the ease of getting jobs and a largely lax immigration enforcement.
BY THE NUMBERS
Raids conducted between January and Aug 15.
Illegal immigrants arrested so far.
Employers arrested so far.
NO EXTENSION OF DEADLINE
The amnesty deadline will not be extended... We have given them ample time to sign up for the programme.
IMMIGRATION DIRECTOR-GENERAL MUSTAFAR ALI
BUSINESSES NOT ABLE TO COPE
SMEs in the manufacturing sector will be the ones affected badly. With fewer workers and no new solution and policy in sight, they may not be able to cope with their orders in the coming months.
MR MICHAEL KANG, president of the SME Association of Malaysia, which represents small and medium -sized enterprises. He says the association has received many complaints from members.
These workers help to construct high-rise towers, pluck oil palm fruits and harvest vegetables in plantations, clean malls and offices, and guard residential areas.
Others toil on factory floors around the country, helping to keep the economy humming above 5 per cent annually in recent years.
Immigration director-general Mustafar Ali said yesterday: "The amnesty deadline will not be extended. We will intensify our operations against illegal immigrants starting on Friday. We have given them ample time to sign up for the programme.
"Illegal immigrants are still heading to our offices around the country in a bid to obtain amnesty and return home."
Datuk Seri Mustafar said labour syndicates who treat workers like "modern-day slaves" will be a priority for the department in the operation dubbed Ops Mega 3.0.
He said the operations against the illegal immigrants was an ongoing process, with some 9,208 raids conducted between January and Aug 15.
He said: "We have arrested 28,063 illegal immigrants and 799 employers so far. Starting on Friday, our efforts will only increase as we aim to free the country of illegal immigrants."
From 2014 until Aug 1 this year, some RM400 million in fines have been collected from over 840,000 migrants who worked without documentation or had overstayed in the country. They were repatriated at their own cost under the amnesty programme, Mr Mustafar said.
But there is downside to the sending home of tens of thousands of workers - many establishments depend on their hard work.
Many Malaysians shun menial labour, along with the low pay and long hours that come with these jobs.
Federation of Malaysian Manufacturers president Soh Thian Lai said local manufacturers might face difficulties in coping with client orders if the uncertainty over foreign workers remained unresolved.
The government, over the years, has vacillated between throwing out all foreigners who work in Malaysia without proper documents and offering long amnesty periods to allow employers to register their workers.
The previous Barisan Nasional government had allowed an extension of three years for foreign workers who had 10 years of working experience in the same job, but the Pakatan Harapan government has dropped this rule.
Said Mr Soh: "Insufficient supply of foreign workers could affect output and businesses, especially those with experienced workers. Foreign workers with set skills and experience would be difficult to replace."
Mr Michael Kang, president of the SME Association of Malaysia, which represents small and medium-sized enterprises, said the association has received many complaints from members.
"SMEs in the manufacturing sector will be the ones affected badly. With fewer workers and no new solution and policy in sight, they may not be able to cope with their orders in the coming months," he said.
"The (amnesty) programme is ending, but what is the new system or policy in place? The new government said it would come up with a policy to address the foreign labour issue so that it will not affect the economy."
THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK