Francois (not his real name) was married in 1997 to his wife from Penang and registered with the Malaysian immigration. He moved to Malaysia in 2005 and has been living here since.
“They granted me the 6 months visa, which required a sponsor (my wife) with a RM2000 minimum income. We came here and started our life from scratch, without any job, as we left everything behind.
“That time my wife couldn’t sponsor me so had to get my in-laws to renew my long term visit pass. If they refuse to sponsor me, for example, that’d be a problem.
“We have a 4 year old son who had to go to school, and finally my wife found a job – but I was not allowed to work and was a stay-at-home dad until 2008, when they revised the laws and allowed us to work.
“Now we can work anywhere, before we cannot as we needed a lot of documentation; work permit, a minimum money of RM 2000 every year – a lot of hassle. A lot of employers would shun a lot of that thing and would prefer to hire a local one.
During Hishamuddin’s time as the Home Minister (now Defence Minister Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Hussein), things improved for the better for the foreign spouses.
Requirements were simplified by just requiring an offer letter from the employer and from the wife to immigration, where the director will stamp on their passports to allow them to work.
“Still the problem is there’s no employer that would give us a job as we have a visa and passport, and would ask if we have PR status. It’s still hard to get a job here for me. I’m a professional engineer with 21 years of experience in different fields in telecommunications and no company ever took me.
“We can contribute to the country with our qualifications but because of these ridiculous laws, it cannot be utilized.
“Its more difficult for males who are qualified because of the laws. They don’t have equal rules for the men, as the signatory on the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), discrimination does not cover the males. We have to wait a longer time to get PR status than a woman. It’s purely up to the government to decide when and how long.
“There’s a disparity, the law is not equal for both genders.
“You have to wait indefinitely to get PR, its up to them. I applied in 2012, and now it’s 2015, and still waiting for my PR status. When we asked at immigration they say it’s still under process.
“They grant you citizenship within 5 years, like in the UK, and PR within one year. There’s a time frame but here there’s no time frame at all.
“We foreign spouses are considered as foreigners, and we also get charged as such. Like in entertainment parks we pay the tourist price, we cannot invest in Amanah Saham, or apply for the Tabung Haji as we are foreign spouses, we cannot buy property unless its RM1 million and RM2 million.
“We are now married to a Malaysian and have Malaysian kids, we should have equal rights as citizens and locals.
“We are not tourists to stay here and then go back. Giving us recognition can give Malaysia a better workforce.
The Endless Wait To Be Malaysian: Its True!
Francois’s case is not unique and we all can recall a friend, relative or acquaintance that have faced a similar situation.
Malaysian Digest recently went undercover and visited the Ministry of Immigration counters pertaining to marriages, the long term social visit pass and Entry Permits (PR).
Posing as a Malaysian guy who is about to marry his French fiancée (sort of a true story back then), what were the hoops we’d have to jump?
Speaking with the immigration officials, they said:
“Make sure you guys are married first, and then we may proceed. If there’s no ‘case’, then getting the social visit pass should be no problem.
“But if there’s a case against your marriage, then, well, you won’t get it. We will have to do all the investigations to make sure that your marriage has no issue (fraud).
“Getting to be PR? But first you have to apply for the long-term social visit pass first for 6 months, and then for one year. After that apply for the 5 years one. Only after that you can apply for PR.
“But for the PR,” he hesitated, “ you can apply, but the approval isn’t guaranteed”.
I then enquired for my Egyptian friend who wants to get married with a Malaysian.
“Has he married to her yet? He has to go through the same process”.
And even if your fiancée/wife has lived here in Malaysia for 10 years before this, we only count from your marriage, or rather, from the date of the social visit pass.
Acting worried, I proceeded with “But once we marry, and have Malaysian kids, and lets just say that something happens to me, or we get divorced – will her PR status be withdrawn?”
“No, no, her PR won’t be withdrawn. She will be allowed to stay here of course.”
But for every foreign spouse anxiously waiting for PR, there are others who do not want it. I approached a Korean lady who was there to renew her 5-year long-term social visit pass.
“I’m here to renew my 5-year pass, but I can’t understand Malay. My husband’s here too.
“Why aren’t you applying for PR?”, I asked.
“I don’t want PR, I want to keep my South Korean nationality, because I can’t keep both.
I’ve been married and working for years now and I have to renew my working pass as well. So far I don’t have any problems not being a PR here in Malaysia. And for my kids, doesn’t matter if they are Malaysian or Korean, I’m fine with both,” she tells me.
Why Do Foreign Spouses Face So Many Obstacles In Obtaining A Malaysian Citizenship?
As Malaysia is trying to plug the brain drain of Malaysia’s workforce, perhaps the authorities have neglected the fact that if foreigners were to marry locals – will they ever get naturalised?
Bina Ramanand is the Coordinator at the Malaysian Foreign Spouses Support Group, an unofficial group that is advancing the rights of foreign spouses of Malaysian citizens and children.
“Foreign spouses, who are married to local Malaysians, face many difficulties, even though they live permanently in Malaysia as providers and caregivers of their Malaysian families”.
“Yes immigration might be afraid of fraud marriages, but perhaps a case-by-case basis should be implemented”.
“Most of things have changed for the better and gotten standardized.
“We had cases where the Malaysian woman is pregnant, and they put a cooling off period to the foreign husband, so that’s really tough for the woman.
“Its not easy to get jobs in Malaysia these days.
“They don’t have 10 years, but now it’s 5 years already, but I can tell you this, they make the male wait for 10 years. We don’t know why male spouses take longer than the female foreign spouses to get their PR status.
“On paper they say it’s 5 years, but really, it will take 10 years. Its actually after 10 years on the long term social visit pass (they give you a 3 months, then 6 months, social passes first) and then you can apply for PR pass, and that itself might take up to 3- 5 years to approve! So that’s 8 years you’re fiddling with your thumbs.
Bina reckons that there are around 200,000 foreign spouses in Malaysia for the year 2010, and should have doubled by now.
“People like us who has been here for 20 – 25 years, we’ve passed our prime times. And those who have a professional license such as doctors, dentists, and banking sectors cannot work in Malaysia because they need PR status first before they can resume their work.
“If you look in Singapore, they realized a lot of professionals are coming in and has made it easier for them to work and live there, including buying houses, that does not have to be more than RM1 million.
“23 years down the line, and I still don’t have a house with my name.
“We still have the difficulty if something were to happen to our husbands, we have no house with our name. “The PR gets withdrawn when the husbands passes away, but again it depends on the Minister. We had cases during Hishamuddin’s time when he actually gave PR to a lot of foreign wives whose husbands had passed away.
“We have a case of a widow with a child who was working, but the employer was taken to jail because they were harbouring her – as she was not allowed to work. She’s got a Malaysian son who’s going to take care of the son?
“It is very difficult for spouses to get work. And bear in mind we’re not all here to cheat and for fraud marriage. Not everybody is in a fraud marriage, look at it case to case.
“That’s what they are tough about, but nobody is going to live in a marriage keep yourself so vulnerable just to get PR, which takes to almost 8 years.
“And each year when we go back we have to go back with our husbands, so vulnerable.
“We have a case of a woman who has a Masters in Finance, and can’t work in finance industry until she’s a PR. They’re not friendly to young professionals in this country”.
“Divorcees get the 6 month short term visit visas without the right to work. In transnational marriages the child loses that parent because he/she must leave the country”.
The Challenges Of A Multinational Marriage Are Many But Things Are Slowly Changing For The Better
Bina concludes that what the Home Ministry has done is commendable, and hopes that the plight of the foreign spouses be dealt with soon.
“We do thank the Home Ministry for its endeavour to speed up the PR process as it had been made easier for foreign spouses of Malaysians to work.
“However, this is only provided that our husbands give us the mandatory letter of permission to be employed. This could pose a problem for spouses in a troubled relationship, or in circumstances of domestic violence creating a situation of vulnerability.
“It could also impinge on the economic and financial independence of the spouse.
“We even have 2nd generation spouses, whose parents come back to Malaysia, whose children are British citizens and the children’s PR has been rejected (the children of Malaysian spouses). That person marries a foreign spouse they are in real trouble.
The PR status would allow foreign spouses to work without the necessity of the husband’s letter of permission to work, open a bank account allow for employer’s contribution to EPF and perhaps have the option not to be separated from the children in the event of a divorce.
Another issue is the fear of the PR status being withdrawn especially when there is marital dispute. Spouses in estranged marriages or who are widowed have experienced their PR applications withdrawn. These spouses are unable to provide for their families as they are prohibited from employment and remain in a fragile situation for fear of being separated from their children.
Francois is glad for Bina’s group that is helping other people, as there’s no other body that can represent them and liaise with the government.
“Around 2012, I have friends, male foreign spouses who got their PR within 2 years. They count from your date of the long-term social pass, and not the date of your marriage. They’ve already got the PR but not me. It’s easier nowadays I guess but not for all.
“For me, I’m still waiting”.
Written By: Mushamir Mustaffa