Policy Loopholes & Recommendations For Migrant Equity


Migrant ban lift

After a long 16-month of migrant ban due to COVID-19, Malaysia opens itself to let foreign workers back into the country in which ultimately allowing tourists to visit Langkawi, the hub for visitors to relax and enjoy the beachy sceneries. Upon this announcement, the government’s pandemic task force on foreign workers is highly anticipated by crucial sectors such as palm oil plantations, rubber glove manufacturing in which both are heavily reliant on migrant labour [1]. The government is reported to be committed to accommodating the return of 32,000 workers specifically for the plantation sector in order to ease out heavy labour crunch [1]

Additionally, the announcement made by the immigration department in which clarifies that foreigners with social visit pass nearing expiration, are required to leave the country by 21 of April 2021. The sudden announcement fails to accommodate the difficulty faced by foreigners in arranging their return to respective countries of origin for such short notice [3]

“It is entirely unreasonable for the Immigration Department to treat foreigners overstaying in Malaysia as if they are doing so deliberately; many have been stuck here due to travel restrictions caused by the Covid-19 pandemic and their undocumented status is due to the inability of the Immigration Department to facilitate their predicament during this unprecedented time. They should not be viewed or treated as criminals for overstaying.” — Lawyers for Liberty

Abuse of human rights

While the migrant ban is lifted, violations of human rights toward migrant workers are reported to have been violated. According to Andy Hall, a migrant worker rights specialist mentions brutalities of the working conditions experienced by migrants in one of the leading manufacturing companies [2]

“Foreign workers at Smart Glove (Corp) have reported to me and my team about poor conditions at the company’s various workplaces for several years. Payment of high recruitment fees, cramped living conditions, and much more. Many of the abuses workers have reported to me and my team are internationally accepted indicators of forced labour” [2]

Regulation of labour work in Malaysia

Although with Malaysia’s saturated presence in the economy, policies and laws regulating migration have been lacking consistency and uniformity [4]. This ultimately gives a perception to international organisations that our policymakers do not have a clear direction as policy reversals such as retrenchments, deportations, and import bans queued before return migration and afterward, lifting those bans. Yaw (2020) elaborates this with policies formed on the concept of short-term remedy for labour shortages issues also exposes the failure on policymakers’ part in recognising the crucial contributions of migrant workers in a long term [4]

Ad-hoc management towards migrant workers provides a pass for abuse by stakeholders, this essentially indicates that migrants who are unskilled are identified to be a cheaper option for employers [4]

Policy recommendations

A revision of labour laws is essential whereby this is a common cause of failure of decentralisation in the recruitment and placement of migrant workers. Regular inspection is needed in ensuring that the welfare of migrant workers are in check by their respective employers so as to ensure that the terms and conditions in which includes pay, working hours, and off days are respected by employers in addition to their safety and health conditions in the workplace [4]

Regulation Labour laws should be robust in order to avoid any potential abuses by people in power (e.g: police, immigration officials, outsourcing companies, and employers). Provisions addressed in Acts/Regulation that is applicable to migrants should be reviewed in ensuring equal protection for migrants, tying this back to Workmen’s compensation Act 1952 — the packages offered to foreigners in the event of injuries and disabilities from workplaces is needed revision as the payment is relatively too low in comparison to SOCSO plan for local workers. [4] Additionally, the inadequacy of access to social security benefits, low wages, unlawful wage deductions, terribly long working hours, poor accommodation needs to be addressed. [4]

Consideration for minimum wages is also fundamental, though the Malaysian Trade Union Congress (MUTC) has added pressure to the government in introducing a minimum wage of RM900 in addition to a cost of living allowance of RM300 as means to attract local workers and reduce dependence on migrant workers [4]. The main challenges are to classify the appropriate amount for minimum wages as the suggested rate is matched with the basic wage of a semi-skilled worker in Malaysia, displacement of jobs is to be feared with more migrant inflows. As such, the minimum wage continues to be a tug-of-war between policymakers and the business industry.

policymakers should also recognize that with appropriate migration

policies and effective management, migrant workers are an economic asset instead

of a liability

(Dadush and Falcao 2009) [4]


  1. https://wtvbam.com/2021/10/22/malaysia-lifts-migrant-worker-ban-to-reopen-holiday-island-to-foreigners/
  2. https://www.theedgemarkets.com/article/migrant-worker-rights-specialist-hopes-enforcement-against-smart-glove-will-lead-change
  3. https://www.lawyersforliberty.org/2021/04/16/lfl-malaysian-government-must-stop-its-regressive-immigration-policies/
  4. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/228434568_Policies_and_Laws_Regulating_Migrant_Workers_in_Malaysia_A_Critical_Appraisal

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