PUTRAJAYA • Malaysia is swooping down on thousands of illegal foreign workers in the country hours after a deadline for registering them passed last Friday.
Just after midnight last Saturday, a convoy of trucks and cars carrying 86 officers rolled out from the Immigration Department headquarters in Putrajaya, Selangor, heading north towards Kapar town, about 60km away.
Their destination: a makeshift dormitory for foreign workers, and their first target for an enforcement raid. The team was headed by Immigration Department director-general Mustafar Ali, who had insisted on moving only after midnight.
"We have to give them time (to get their E-cards)," he had told reporters earlier.
In February, the authorities announced that they would allow illegal workers to change their status by registering their presence with the Immigration Department and obtaining an enforcement card (E-card) by last Friday.
For the current E-cards, only workers from the 15 countries that officially supply their nationals to work in Malaysia are eligible to apply. These include Indonesia, Bangladesh and Myanmar.
At the dormitory in Jalan Jati Kiri, Kapar, there was just enough light to make out the workers gathered in the courtyard, where officers checked their documents one by one. Officers rounded up 239 workers and found 51 of them did not have valid documents. Most of the offenders were from Bangladesh.
Foreign nationals working illegally in Malaysia who are eligible to apply for work permits.
Those who had done so by last Friday morning.
Mr Mustafar said most of the workers inspected were working at nearby furniture and plastic manufacturing factories.
The workers were calm as they waited in groups to be inspected.
A female worker from Myanmar said she was not aware of the deadline. "My boss went to get the cards but not everybody got them," she said, adding that her employer had told them not to worry about it.
The E-card functions as a temporary confirmation of employment for illegal workers and replaces valid travel documents from their countries. The card is given out to employees for free and is valid until Feb 15 next year.
Further north in Ipoh, Perak, a handful of illegal immigrants tried to flee as enforcement officers raided a construction site in Taman Menglembu Impiana Adril last Saturday morning, but they were soon caught.
Perak immigration operations chief Suhairie Bah Ali said that of the 28 workers who were rounded up and checked, four, including an Indonesian woman, were found to be illegal workers. "Most of them have proper documents, but the four were unable to produce theirs. One claimed that his documents were with his employer, the other at his kongsi house and one told us his brother has them," he said.
An earlier operation in the Chandan Raya Industrial Estate saw the arrest of 31 foreigners working illegally in a food-processing factory - 22 were from Myanmar and the rest from Nepal.
"We also detained the factory owner, in his 40s. He will be investigated under Section 56(1)(d) of the Immigration Act for harbouring the workers," Mr Suhairie said.
"Some of the workers were hired to work at farms, but they were found working at the factory. They will all be remanded at the immigration headquarters for 14 days," he said.
Officials said there are 600,000 foreign nationals working illegally who are eligible to apply for work permits, but only about 155,000 had done so by last Friday morning.
Malaysia, South-east Asia's third-largest economy, has some two million registered foreign workers and more than one million more who work without permits.
THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK