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Red IC Blues: Applying for Malaysian Permanent Residence

For a country rich in its immigrant past, Malaysia has been rather xenophobic about letting foreigners in for good.

Since independence in 1957, permanent residence status in Malaysia is granted at the discretion of the Home Affairs Ministry to certain long-standing residents on account of their special relation or contribution to this country. There was a minimum requirement but no set procedure. Applicants were not told how they could become eligible nor how long they had to wait if they applied. To many older Malaysians, PR was seen negatively (as shown by the issuance of red Identity cards, citizens are given blue ones) as connoting the deprival of citizenship rather than as a step towards one. Rather than admit that it needs foreign money and talent, Malaysia has vacillated in its immigration policies, pretending at various times that it could do with one or the other, but never both.

Now Dato’ Sri Najib, Malaysia’s Prime Minister, wants to change all that.

He announced during his visit to Brussels that he intends to reverse Malaysia’s brain drain. 700,000 skilled Malaysians now live overseas. To attract them home he has set up Talent Corporation. He also intends to give PR to foreigners married to Malaysians. The Official government immigration website in July 2010 posted information on applying for PR. In step with major rich migrant accepting countries such as Canada and Australia, it also announced a point-based system for assessing eligibility.

While it is still early to say how the new point system and PR policy will work at over the counter level, the prime minister has recently given would-be migrants more reasons to cheer. He announced recently that from 1 April 2011, talented foreigners will be granted a 10-year resident pass to allow them to stay longer in this country. This pass is renewable at the end of the period and the spouse of its holder is also allowed to work.

If these enlightened and (by Malaysian standards) courageous immigration policies are eventually implemented, Dato’ Sri Najib can take credit for starting Malaysia on the last phase of its journey towards becoming a truly first world country.


Kerk Boon Leng