PETALING JAYA (THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - Malaysia's Immigration officers will fan out across the nation in a major crackdown on illegal immigrants from Friday (Aug 31) - the first under the Pakatan Harapan government.
An amnesty programme, which enables illegal immigrants to pay a RM300 (S$99.70) fine and then pay a RM100 fee for a special pass allowing them to return home, will end on Thursday (Aug 30).
But local manufacturers and business owners say they are worried that the "uncertainty" over the 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, but with estimates that a further one million or more, are working in the country illegally.
It is this large undocumented group that is the target of the government's occasional crackdowns.
Malaysia is a magnet for migrant workers from countries such as Indonesia, Nepal and Bangladesh due to the ease of getting jobs and a largely lax immigration enforcement.
These workers help to construct high-rise towers, pluck palm oil fruits and harvest vegetables in plantations, clean malls and offices, and guard residential areas.
Immigration director-general Mustafar Ali said on Thursday: "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 the operations against illegal immigrants are an ongoing process with some 9,208 raids conducted between January and Aug 15.
"We have arrested 28,063 illegal immigrants and 799 employers so far.
"Starting tomorrow (Friday), our efforts will only increase as we aim to free the country of illegal immigrants," he said.
From 2014 until Aug 1 this year, some RM400 million in fines have been collected from over 840,000 migrants who worked or overstayed in Malaysia.
They were expatriated at their own cost under the amnesty programme, Mr Mustafar said.
Federation of Malaysian Manufacturers president Soh Thian Lai said local manufacturers might face difficulties in coping with client orders if the uncertainty over foreign worker remained unresolved.
The government over the years has vacillated between throwing out all foreigners who work in Malaysia without proper documents, to offering long amnesty periods to allow employers to register their workers.
The previous Barisan Nasional government allowed for an extension of three years for foreign workers who had 10 years experience, but the Pakatan Harapan government has dropped this rule.
Said Datuk 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."
Datuk Michale Kang, president of SME Association of Malaysia that 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 out with a policy to address the foreign labour issue so that it will not affect the economy."