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Introduction                                                                                                                            1


The Immigration Policy Regarding Foreign Workers in Malaysia                                             2


The Making of the Public Policy                                                                                     3


Participants in the Making and Implementation of the Policy                                       5


The Models Used for the Policy Making                                                                        6


Problems Faced in Implementation of The Policy                                                              6


Evaluation of the Policy and Its Outcome                                                                           8


Conclusion                                                                                                                             9


References                                                                                                                           10






            Malaysia has recently had to cope with a very delicate problem, that of illegal immigration of foreign workers. This is due to its recent tremendous economic success and being surrounded by relatively much poorer countries, it is all natural that the people of those countries see Malaysia as a gold mine and emigrate to share its success. However, the influx of foreign workers has been so enormous that this has become a headache for the Malaysian government. This state of affairs has not only  brought social problems, but also economic ones and is also a threat to the internal security of the country.

            The government is however faced with a dilemma. On the one hand, it does not want too much foreign workers, on the other, it cannot do without them. Malaysia's population is small and not able to respond to the demand of the economy which needs for its development lot of workers, both qualified and unqualified. Cornered as it is, it is very interesting to understand how the Malaysian government is dealing with this problem.

The essay gives us a brief description of the public policy concerned, the policy-making process, and the participants in the making and implementation of the policy. It also tries to identify any model(s) of policy making that are followed by the Department, any problems faced in the making or implementation of the policy, and the general implications and evaluation of the policy.


The Immigration Policy Regarding Foreign Workers in Malaysia


First of all, the labour force is divided  into two main categories; blue-collar workers and white-collar workers. For each, there are slightly different policies. To understand this, one must understand the composition and nature of the Malaysian economy. With the growth rate the country has been going on in the recent past (8.5 % p.a.), it needs a lot of expertise for the  transfer the technology for advanced technology. This is a long term and very crucial need. On the other hand, it is also needs many blue collar workers for the factories and other businesses to keep running. Ssince the demand for them exceeds what the Malaysian labour market can offer, this is more of an immediate and short term need.


At the same time, because of good political and economic conditions in the country, there is a 'labour pull' in that outsiders are attracted to come and work in Malaysia, especially blue-collar workers whose countries have lower political and economic performance. This is to some extent not the case with white collar workers, because they usually come from more developed countries.


Therefore, the policy for white collar workers is a welcoming one. Visa and working permit procedures are easier for them, especially if they are in the field of medicine or engineering, since these are the two main fields that need expertise. The policy does not, however, encourage foreign white-collar workers in the tertiary sector, except for areas like teaching and only if that requires a high level of expertise.


As for blue-collar workers, there is a more strict immigration policy towards them, especially in terms of procedures. For example, a company wanting to host a foreign blue collar worker is required to submit a number of guarantees to ensure that the worker leaves the country when his or her working permit expires.


In more general terms, the immigration policy is one of cautious enthusiasm. It is very intricate and complex, since it affects and is affected by numerous economic and political factors and pressures.


The Making of the Public Policy


            Policies are not made overnight, but gradually, over a period of time. In brief, the normal procedure involves either recommendations from the department to the Minister of Internal Affairs and then followed by an official announcement of the policy by the minister, or it originates from  the ministers level and is announced from there. We must differentiate between two things. One is the general, 'macro' policies, and the second is the specific ones. The first one comes from the  ministerial level, and the second is formulated in the department according to the ministers general policy, and is characterized by having more tangible objectives.


            In 1991, Malaysia was  having approximately 50,000 foreign workers coming into the country annually, with about 10 - 15 thousands supposedly leaving annually. This makes  a net annual increase in the number of foreign workers in the country of 35 - 40 thousands. Moreover, this number being in itself too high, was made worse by an extra 7,000 who were supposed to leave after their visa expires but were staying and working illegally.


This created two basic problems:

(1) A rapid increase in the number of illegal immigrants and workers. This, of course, had many negative consequences. The one relevant here is that these illegal workers were creating some imbalances in the local labour market, since they were working at cheaper wages than the market price.


2) A rapid increase in the number of foreign blue-collar workers. Here, the policy have to keep into consideration a very delicate balance between:

i. the immediate need of workers for continuous economic growth, especially with  the  growth rate of Malaysia, and


ii. maintaining low unemployment by not disturbing the balance of the labour market, and to give more opportunities for Malaysians.




Hence, the main objectives of the policy were to:


A.  Minimize the number of illegal workers.

B.  Keep the labor market balanced as much as possible.

C.  To encourage more white collar workers to work in Malaysia.


Participants in the Making and Implementation of the Policy


            In this particular policy, since it had economy-wide and society-wide effects, the prime minister Dato Sri Dr. Mahathir was directly involved. It should be clarified here that the Minister of Internal Affairs, under which the Department of Immigration lies, is

Dr. Mahathir himself, Prime Minister of Malaysia. The initial policy proposal was made from a meeting of Dr. Mahathir, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance Dato Anwar Ibrahim, Deputy Minister of Internal Affairs,  the Director of the Department of Immigration, and the economic and personal advisors of the four parties involved. Later, the Director of Immigration, Dato Wan and other senior officers in the Department met numerous times until a more detailed version of this public policy was reached.


            The Director of Immigration is the person accountable to the Minister and Deputy Minister of Internal Affairs for the implementation of the policy, but on a more practical level, it is The Director of Immigration and the same ranking officers who are responsible to insure, supervise and work out the actual implementation strategy. On the lowest administrative level, it is the immigration officer behind the counter who deals with the people directly and his immediate supervisors who are responsible for the final stage of the implementation process.



The Models Used for the Policy Making


            There is definitely no single model that is followed. The models are very orten simplifications of reality. The reality is a mixture of many of these models. Nevertheless, there are some general features. For this particular policy, there is a general elite/mass structure, since it directly involves the Prime Minister as Minister of Internal Affairs. There is also emphasis on bureaucratic ranking of the officers. The group model also applies to some extent as there are many pressure groups. For example, the Ministry of Finance is always asking for a reduction  in the number of foreign workers, in order to reduce the cash outflow from the country. There are also some labour groups, though they dont have as much influence as they enjoy in other countries.


Problems Faced in Implementation of The Policy


            There were a number of problems faced in implementing the policy. For blue-collar workers, the industrial and business pressure groups were unhappy with the strict policy and they were constantly asking for more leniency in rules and regulations regarding foreign blue-collar workers. The main group involved here was the Malaysian Employers Association (MEA). The Malaysian Trade Union Congress (MTUC) which is the umbrella union for private sector labor unions was also involved. Nevertheless, there was little or no response from the government, and so this resulted in a rise in corruption cases, because the business pressure groups were using their money power to get around the policy.


            Another typical problem in bureaucracy is inefficiency, and this was also the case here. From the time policies are handed down from senior officers in  the ministry until they reach the lower administrative levels, many segments of the policy would have been neglected. This made the policy implementation incomplete, and hence not having the real and desirable effect.


            As for white-collar workers, there was an unexpected increase in the annual inflow of workers, due to the new welcoming policy. It would be undesirable if this increases above a certain limit (though it has not reached that level yet), as foreign workers might start taking opportunities meant for Malaysian, instead of fulfilling their primary goal of transferring technology and expertise.





Evaluation of the Policy and Its Outcome


            To properly evaluate the policy, we should compare the policy outcome with the policy objectives. The annual increase in the number of foreign blue-collar workers has been reduced to approximately 16,000. The number of illegal workers staying back (annually) after visa expire has been reduced to half the previous number, but the total number of incoming illegal workers has increased dramatically, because there was a sharp increase in the number of people entering the country illegally. Hence, the main objective of this part of the policy has failed.


            The government has come up with a new and stricter policy, which is effective starting the 1st of January, 1997. This policy aimed at legalizing as many of the estimated one million illegal workers in the country by December 31st, 1996. Each employer is required to register his or her workers with the government and get the proper approvals before 31st of December. After the 31st, the government will make mass searches and raids to clean up any illegal workers and deport them back to their country. Furthermore, any employers who is found hiring illegal workers will be fined RM 10,000 per worker, in addition to caning and imprisonment. The government has also decided to abolish all private agencies that import foreign labour, and instead there will be an equivalent governmental agencies that is responsible for bringing in foreign labour. There has also been a number of dismisses from the staff of the department on charges of corruption, and the cases have been taken to court.


            As for white-collar workers, the number has increased dramatically, but is still within range. This could be considered a success, but in the future, more regulation might have to be introduced as to the type of experts and professional that are allowed to come in.





            It is difficult to identify a single model that applies to the making of this policy, but it is obvious that the elite mass model is the most applicable one. The previous policy had proven to be a failure, since it was not able to reach its goals, or even a significant part of it. As for the latest policy, it is difficult to evaluate it at this stage, because it is still in the early stages of implementation and there is no tangible outcomes yet. Nevertheless, the new one seems to be a lot more serious about solving the problem of illegal workers in Malaysia.




Abdul Aziz, Muhammad. Human and Institutional Capacity to Achieve National        Development: the Malaysian Approach. Kuala Lumpur: Institut Kajian Pasar (IKP), 1992.


Jomo, Kwame S, (ed.) Malaysia's Development Policy and Reform. Petaling Jaya: Pelanduk Publications (M), 1995.


Pramanik, Ataul Haq. Malaysia's Economic Success. Petaling Jaya: Pelanduk Publications (M), 1994.



New Straits Times: 23 December, 1996, 3 April 1997, 10 August 1997, .

The Sun: 21 March, 1997, 26 June, 1997.





Public Policy making
By :Fomba V. Sannoh
23/ jan/1997