Illegal immigrants in Malaysia

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Illegal immigrants in Malaysia comprise a substantial portion of the Malaysian population, numbering as many as two million by some estimates. Most of them are from nearby Southeast Asian countries such as Indonesia and the Philippines. Illegal migrants tend to take odd jobs unpalatable to the local populace, such as working in construction sites and agricultural sectors [according to whom?]. Although their presence in Malaysia is against the law, the Malaysian government has not made a serious effort to deport illegal migrants until early 2005, when it was feared that displaced Indonesians affected by the 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami would swamp the country. In 2012 the US State Department included Malaysia as one of the countries who has not met Trafficking Victims Protection Act's minimum standards but is trying to make improvements in fighting human trafficking. [1]


Illegal immigration describes people entering a country without formal permission. There are many views on illegal immigration, depending on political standpoint:[2][not in citation given]

Many types of migrants are considered illegal immigrant, this includes those without any travel documents, refugee, runaway workers, workers working in different sectors than those stated in their work permit, overstay, fake travel documents, fake work permit, fake MyKards, fake UN Cards, stateless people as well as those born in Malaysia by illegal immigrants.


In 2005, it was confirmed by the Malaysian government that there were 1.8 million registered and legal foreign workers, and that the number of illegal immigrants was as high as 5 million in both East and West Malaysia, including refugees. The nations home to the highest percentages of the illegal immigrant population were Indonesia, Philippines, Bangladesh, Nepal, Myanmar/Burma, India, Vietnam, Sri Lanka, Cambodia, Laos, Pakistan.[3][not in citation given][4][not in citation given] The government's estimate may be a conservative number, however. Some non-governmental organisations (NGOs) have placed the number of illegal immigrants in the state of Sabah alone in the realm of two million, comprising two-thirds of the state's population.[5]

Crackdown, amnesty, and deportation[edit]

Since 2000, the Malaysian government has been trying to combat illegal immigration by imposing stiffer fines, and introducing caning for illegal immigrants arrested and those who employ them.[citation needed] Kosmo! reported that illegal immigrants only need to pay RM450 to either get into, or out of, the country by boat.[6]

To accelerate the deportation of illegal immigrants, an amnesty program has been launched since 2004 for all illegal immigrants willing to go home. Under the program, illegals will not be imprisoned or suffer heavy fines. Illegal immigrants need to produce a valid passport or travel document, and must pay RM300 for compound and RM100 for a Special Pass. Illegal immigrants who approach immigration directly have to pay the standard compound, if they apply through Pangkal Rezeki Sdn Bhd, the company appointed by the Malaysian government with exclusive ability to register and process for the amnesty program. The company collects RM700 in total – RM300 for compound, RM100 for the special pass, and the balance for the commission and processing fee. Illegal immigrants can either approach the company directly, or go through a list of private agents all over Malaysia who might fix a price of between RM750 to RM1500. This amnesty program was called Program Penghantaran Pulang Pati (Major Repatriation Program), also known as 4P.[7][not in citation given]

After the tsunami of 2004, the government announced plans to forcibly repatriate as many illegal immigrants as possible, with harsh punishments – including steep fines and heavy whippings – imposed on those who disobeyed or aided illegal immigrants in their efforts to remain in Malaysia. The original deadline set was 1 February 2005; by this date, 400,000 had already left voluntarily. Due to the effectiveness of their efforts, the government announced they would not launch the crackdown as planned, delaying it to an undetermined date.[4][8][not in citation given]


Although by virtue of their illegal status, illegal immigrants may not apply for Malaysian citizenship, some have attempted to procure it illegally by buying MyKads and passports on the black market. In Sabah, it was reported that 800,000 MyKads had been issued to people who eventually left the state and come over to West Malaysia.[9] As Indonesians who have citizenship would be classified as Malay under Article 160 of the Constitution, it has been feared that thousands of illegal immigrants not only received privileges meant for Malaysian citizens, such as the right to vote, but also privileges meant for the Bumiputra, which include allocations of public shares, discounts on real estate, etc.[5][unreliable source?]

It has been claimed by opposition politician Jeffrey Kitingan that there are 1.7 million illegals in Sabah, of whom 600,000 have obtained MyKads. Kitingan has accused these illegals of exercising the right to vote, and also of falsely claiming Bumiputra status.[10] There are allegations that there is some form of systematic granting of citizenship which is known as Project IC, or Project M. Recent revelations revealed systematic changing of the demographics of Sabah, where the state government granted citizenship to 73,000 Filipinos between 1970 to 1984 on the condition that they were Muslims.[11] Kee Dzulkifly Kee Abd Jalil, an official with the National Registration Department revealed that he was instructed by his department heads to issue 100,000 national identity cards to Filipino, Indonesia and Pakistani immigrants in Sabah with prior knowledge by the former Sabah Chief Minister Harris Salleh's office and the auspices of Abdul Aziz Shamsuddin the former political secretary of Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad.[12] An NRD official said that as many as over 120,000 identity cards issued in 1979 to 1996 were deemed to have been created as part of an identity card scam.[13]

During a recent Royal Commission of Inquiry on illegal immigrants in Sabah a number of revelations on the granting of citizenship to illegal immigrants was revealed. A former National Registration Director, Mohd Nasir Sugip revealed that he was part of a top secret operation called 'Ops Durian Buruk' (Operation Rotten Durian),[14] whereby the Election Commission of Malaysia and then deputy former Home Minister Megat Junid Megat Ayub instructed his department to issue national identity cards to foreigners to change the voting demographics in Sabah.[15][16] During this process of granting national identity cards, the names of 16,000 illegal immigrants were changed under instructions of the Sabah Election Commission.[17] Also former Sabah NRD director Ramli Kamarudin revealed that former Sabah Chief Minister Osu Sukam was present when Megat Junid gave instructions to carry out the project IC exercise.[18][19]

Several witnesses who benefited from the citizenship for votes scheme have corroborated this assertion, including a Filipino man who said that he was given his identity card without applying for it.[20] Further two witnesses from India and Pakistan said they received identity cards in less than 10 years, instead of going through the normal process of getting permanent residency in 12 years and undergoing naturalisation after being in Malaysia for 10 years more.[21]

Why does Malaysia have so much illegal immigration?[edit]

This question, though straightforward, is extremely complex, and ties with various issues that may seem insignificant to Malaysia, but contribute to the cause of illegal immigrants.

As the economy of Malaysia improves, more and more demand for foreign labour is required to fill in the intense labour market for palm oil, construction, domestic helpers, restaurants and other job sectors that Malaysians shun.

For a typical employer to engage a foreign worker, they are first required to show cause that they are unable to employ any Malaysian workers by submitting their request form through JCS. After a 60 days grace of unsuccessful recruitment, they may then submit their application through KDN (, together with the numbers of foreign workers required. Once granted, employers would have obtain approval to go ahead to the Department of Immigration of Malaysia ( for the rest of the government processing and payment of levy. Usually employers go through agencies and agents to procure the foreign workers with the necessary approval and payment receipt. The agency or agent would than service them the rest of the way. Agencies and agents are not usually paid by the employer; instead they profit from commission charged the foreign workers. The amount usually ranges from a one time US$300 to US$400 per head count, which many believe is reasonable and affordable.

However, companies that are entitled to engage foreign workers would have to comply with the straight requirements of various government bodies. This hampers the need of small business owners, thus creating a demand for illegal workers.

Indonesian illegal immigrants[edit]

Indonesians account for the largest number of illegal immigrants in Malaysia, most working in various sectors like common Malaysians, as well as jobs that Malaysians are unwilling to work. The majority of them are sub-contractors on plantations for palm oil, or working for sub-contractors of plantation companies. Construction is the other industry flooded with illegal immigrants from Indonesia.

Work in Indonesia is usually for very low pay; sweatshops paying US$1 are all over Indonesia. Insufficient funding for infrastructure causes mass unemployment, as well as harsh working conditions. This constitutes the reason for an increasing number of Indonesians being willing to travel abroad to work, or even seek a better life.

Prior to the ban of Domestic Helpers to Malaysia by the Indonesian government due to political reasons, tens of thousand of Indonesian maids were deployed to Malaysia every day. In most case, a large percentage of these maids had no intention of working for their original employers. In the case of Indonesian maids, all their expenses to deploy to Malaysia are paid for, as well as cash payments to their families of up to RM1,000. In exchange, they need to guarantee to their Indonesian agent that they will stick to their employers for at least 3 months. More than 75% of these Indonesian maids choose to run away from their employers for various factors, including abuse by employers, better salary offers, to reunite with their relatives in Malaysia, or just to seek a better life compared to what they had enjoyed in Indonesia.

Because the Indonesian and Malay languages are virtually the same, most Indonesians feel very comfortable communicating in Malaysia; and because most small business owners are fluent in Malay, it is much more convenient for them to hire Indonesians, whether illegal or legal.

However, ever since the Project IC was launched, more and more foreigners have been flooding Sabah, hoping one day to gain a Malaysian IC, where they could then go to other greener pastures like Australia, Singapore, Taiwan, Canada, USA and other developed countries using Malaysian citizenship.[22][third-party source needed]

Filipino illegal immigrants[edit]

With the hard life of Muslim Filipinos in the Southern Philippines, including terrorism, lack of governmental support, unemployment, and other internal issues, many feel a desperate necessity to find a better life or safety elsewhere. Sabah in Malaysia, being only an hour away by boat ride from major ports in the southern Philippines, has become a favoured destination for Filipino refugees. Malaysia being a Muslim country, and unable to reject the urgent needs of fellow Muslims, has no choice but to allow refugees from the Philippines to enter Sabah. These refugees are granted temporary amnesty while in the country. With an increasing number of Filipino nationals settling in the Sabah region, more and more of their relatives and friends have come to join them. Filipino flea markets, traders, and goods have begun to mushroom all over Sabah to cater to the needs of Filipino expats there, thus making their life more comfortable and acceptable.

Many Filipinos come to both Sabah and West Malaysia to seek work, in most case honestly willing to process a valid work permit for themselves. However, their own government has put official pressure on the Malaysian government to act according to the POEA rules and regulations, thus making most of these Filipinos unable to acquire any work permit, and eventually forcing them to be illegal. Some of these work permit regulations include; that workers be at least 23 years old, with a US$400 minimum monthly salary, dental care to be provided by employer, and expensive POEA processing through Philippine manpower agencies. These issues causes problems for typical Filipinos, who have either no money to pay for the expensive processing, or employers unwilling to pay for the expensive demands. To make matters worse, the Philippines has demanded of Malaysian immigration that all Filipino applications be accompanied by a POEA endorsement/acknowledgement, and to reject all applications without it. This has caused even more Filipinos to be disqualified, thus creating a huge number of illegals on both sides of Malaysia, especially those who are already there. When Filipinos start finding cheaper ways to enter Malaysia to work, more and more Philippine regulation has made this resolve impotent. Those assisting Filipinos to work outside the Philippines, without going through POEA, are considered human traffickers. Passengers departing the Philippines, who are suspected of being illegal workers, are often offloaded while in the airport and their passports confiscated. To save cost, employers and employee would process their POEA documents without any involvement of Philippine manpower agencies, this came to an abrupt end in 2008 when POEA disallow any form of processing without going through Philippine manpower agencies.[23][not in citation given][24][25][not in citation given]

Bangladeshi illegal immigrants[edit]

One of the factors that contributes to the rise of illegal immigrants, is the "Outsourcing license" launched by the Malaysian government, for companies employing foreign workers. Under the "Outsourcing license", companies are granted a preapproved quota for the number of workers to be imported to Malaysia. Upon filling the quota, the companies could simply reapply for an extended quota. The concept of Outsourcing cut much of the red tape that had been required for employers who engaged foreign workers, as well as for those who did not. For this reason, Outsourcing companies began to charge exorbitant prices for each quota they leased out. The price could range from RM800 to RM1800 per year, on top of the levy, insurance, medical examination and cost of a banker's guarantee. Employers, mostly small time business owner, unable to afford the costly overheads, decided they would rather engage in the employment of illegal workers.[26][not in citation given]

From 2006 to 2008, numerous Outsourcing companies contributed to the huge influx of Bangladesh workers, most of whom are illegal now. Bangladeshi agents, when recruiting these individuals in their country, usually promised them higher pay and benefits than was actually agreed upon. Agents in Bangladesh would then collect up to RM7,000 to RM9,000 as placement fees from the candidates. This amount covers the airline ticket, processing, and commission for Malaysian agents of up to RM2500 per head. Agents in Malaysia would bring them in and lease them out on a daily or monthly basis, with salary as low as RM17.50 per day. Although these activities had been practised by agents prior to the launch of "Outsourcing license", the launch of this license contributes to even more Bangladesh being imported, due to the pre-approval. Agents would deploy workers by the thousands at a time, becoming millionaires overnight. However, the Bangladeshis' being unaccustomed to Malaysian work conditions, and their refusal to work for a salary lower than had been promised by their Bangladeshi agent, led many to run away from their employers, preferring to take their chances for better pay, work conditions or even living quarters.[27][not in citation given]

Usually the Outsourcing companies rely on the commission that they were to obtain from their Bangladeshi counterpart, to feed and support these workers until reliable employers are found for them. However, in many cases, Bangladeshi agents fail to pay the commission and use the approval obtained by their Malaysian counterpart to deploy these workers. Upon the workers' arrival in Malaysia, the Outsourcing companies are required to clear and collect them at the airport, regardless of the commission problem. Outsourcing companies and agents, shaken by the cost of food and lodging, thus have an incentive to allow these unpaid workers to run away and seek their own fortune, rather than take responsibility.

Indian illegal immigrants[edit]

There are thousands of Indian restaurants all over Malaysia, and most of them operate 24 hours. These Indian restaurants have become the norm in Malaysia for a majority of the population as an eatery and social gathering. The need of service labour has also increased exponentially in the last few years. However, most of these restaurants are not qualified to engage legal foreign workers. This circumstance has caused most of the restaurant owners to bring in their own relatives and friends from India to work in Malaysia.

Since 2008, due to the high number of illegals in Malaysia, the Malaysian government has decided to cease issuing work permits for service workers. This has caused even more illegal Indian nationals in Malaysia to resort to work without any valid work permit.

2011 Legalization Program[edit]

The high amount of illegal were blame on high number of crimes, inflation as well as other economical issues. The Malaysian government announce in June 2011 that a 6P legalisation will be launch to allow the 1.8 million illegals to be either legalise or allow to be deported back to their home country without any form of punishment. Employers who have been employing illegal workers will also be granted amnesty and allow to legalise their worker, subjected to the rules and regulation of Ministry of Manpower.

To allow mass registration of illegal immigrants, 344 agencies all over Malaysia have been established. The program was to be launch on 11 July 2011 but was postpone to 18 July 2011 to allow more preparation for those appointed agencies. It was later postpone again to 1 August 2011, to allow some minor flaws to in the program to be rectified.

Under the 6P program, all illegals are allow to register including those without passport, workers who had previously ran away from their employer, fake permit, fake passport, illegals who are UN card holders, overstay and even for those who were born in Malaysia by illegal immigration. Those who register will have their fingerprint taken and acknowledge receipt will be given to them. Those registrant who will be approved to work in Malaysia, will be allow to obtain a valid work permit, insurance and other benefits. Those illegal immigrate who's registration has been rejected would be granted amnesty from any prosecution or any fine and be allow to return to their home country freely.[28][improper synthesis?]

Notes and references[edit]

  1. ^ Wong, Jasmine. (28 June 2012) Govt weak against human trade, says Tenaganita. Free Malaysia Today.
  2. ^ "illegal alien". Unabridged. April 2011. 
  3. ^ "Undocumented Migrant & Refugee". FIDH. FIDH. Retrieved 23 July 2011. 
  4. ^ a b "Malaysia suspends migrant sweep". (1 February 2005). BBC News.
  5. ^ a b Quek, Kim (9 February 2006). "Demographic implosion in Sabah? Really?". Malaysiakini.
  6. ^ Only RM450 for illegals to enter or leave. (1 July 2009). TheStar Online.
  7. ^ "4P". The Star. 18 October 2010. Retrieved 23 July 2011. 
  8. ^ Fernandez, Clarence (2 February 2005). "Malaysia dons velvet glove in immigrant crackdown". Reuters.
  9. ^ Wong, Jasmine. (23 February 2014) Illegal immigrants: Turning a blind eye. Free Malaysia Today.
  10. ^ 600,000 of 1.7mil foreigners have M'sian ICs: Jeffrey. (19 December 2006). Malaysia Today.
  11. ^ Malaysiakini. Malaysiakini (14 January 2013).
  12. ^ Su, Boo. (16 January 2013) 100,000 ICs given to immigrants in 1993, RCI told. The Malaysian Insider.
  13. ^
  14. ^ ‘Ops Durian Buruk’in early 1990s, says ex-NRD officer – BorneoPost Online | Borneo , Malaysia, Sarawak Daily News | Largest English Daily in Borneo.
  15. ^ ‘We gave Muslim foreigners IDs to vote’. Free Malaysia Today.
  16. ^ Malaysiakini. Malaysiakini (16 January 2013).
  17. ^ Su, Boo. (16 January 2013) EC ordered NRD to give ICs, change immigrants’ names, RCI told. The Malaysian Insider.
  18. ^ Wong, Jasmine. (18 January 2013) RCI revelations could drown Musa, Umno. Free Malaysia Today.
  19. ^ [1][dead link]
  20. ^ Su, Boo. (17 January 2013) Filipino refugee says got blue IC without applying for it. The Malaysian Insider.
  21. ^ Su, Boo. (18 January 2013) Pakistani, Indian migrants tell how they got ICs. The Malaysian Insider.
  22. ^ "Project IC". Project IC. Retrieved 24 July 2011. 
  23. ^ Prof. Datu A. Jumaani, Amilusin (28 October 2000). "Muslim-Christian Relations in the Philippines". Muslim-Christian Relations in the Philippines. 1 1 (1): 1. Retrieved 28 October 2000. 
  24. ^ "Islam and Muslims in Philippines". Islam and Muslims in Philippines. Islam Awareness. Retrieved 2 October 2011. 
  25. ^ "The warlords' way". The Economics. 19 February 2010. Retrieved 25 July 2011. 
  26. ^ "List of Outsourcing Companies". List of Outsourcing Companies. Trade Director. Retrieved 23 July 2011. 
  27. ^ "Sufferings of Bangladeshi Workers". Sufferings of Bangladeshi Workers. Retrieved 23 July 2011. 
  28. ^ Sira Habibu, Steven Daniel. "Amnesty Scam". Papers. Star Papers. Retrieved 7 June 2011.