Hundreds of undocumented Nepali workers return from Malaysia after availing general amnestyNepali workers turning illegal is common in Malaysia, but there is no data available on them.
Chandan Kumar Mandal
Nearly 6,000 Nepali expatriate workers have availed the general amnesty extended by the Malaysian government to undocumented immigrants to enable them to return to their home countries.
Through the five-month-long amnesty scheme called Back for Good Programme, which started in August last year, the Malaysian government had provided an opportunity to illegal immigrants on its soil to return to their own countries following a formal process.
The amnesty, which ended on December 31, has been utilised by thousands of foreigners, including Nepali migrant workers, who had violated the Malaysian immigration rules or had overstayed their visas.
According to Maheshwar Mani Tripathi, the second secretary at the Nepali Embassy in Malaysia, the amnesty was well-received among the Nepali workers living in Malaysia.
“Nepali workers showed an overall good response to the amnesty scheme,” Tripathi told the Post from Kuala Lumpur over the phone. “Since the amnesty was announced, Nepali workers have come forward to take advantage of the scheme.”
Unlike previous years, the Malaysian government had not outsourced any companies to facilitate foreigners who wanted to return to their homelands in a bid to avoid the scope of any middlemen exploiting the immigrants.
The embassy in Malaysia had also organised several awareness programmes in different parts of the country encouraging Nepali workers to return, if they had violated the local immigration rules or had been overstaying. The Nepali mission also arranged for the free passage of Nepali workers.
“The Embassy had taken a proactive approach to persuade our workers to return home,” said Tripathi. “For their safety and to avoid exploitation from middlemen, the embassy officials would take them to the Immigration Office and bring them back only after their paperwork had been completed.”
For returning to Nepal using the amnesty scheme, the undocumented expats had to pay a fine of Malaysian Ringgit 700 (equivalent to Rs19,628) and get a special exit pass from the Malaysian Immigration Department.
Nepali workers without any valid documents or passports had to pay 160 ringgit more for getting their one-way travel document from the Nepali Embassy. Under the rules, within seven days of completing their official work, the workers had to take the flight back to their home country.
Malaysia has remained one of the top labour destination countries for Nepali workers. But a large number of them also turned illegal after overstaying their visas or after changing their jobs without informing their employers.
As per the local Malaysian law, an immigrant is considered illegal if they stay in the country even after their visa has expired and flee from their original employers and start working elsewhere, without a valid work permit.
Although this problem is common among Nepali workers, the Nepal Embassy doesn’t have any data on the number of undocumented Nepali workers.
Nepali workers have opted for similar amnesties in the past as well. When the latest amnesty scheme was announced last year, the Nepali Embassy had estimated as many 15,000-20,000 Nepali workers would return home using the official pardon. However, this year, their numbers has stayed low even though the embassy calls it satisfactory.
Last year, nearly 15,000 Nepali workers had returned home using the amnesty, which was called the Voluntary Deportation Programme.
“The amnesty was successful. But many people still did not show up,” said Tripathi. “In relation to the number of workers choosing amnesty in 2018, the numbers seem low. There is a possibility that not all of those staying undocumented, came out.”
The Malaysian authority, meanwhile, has repeatedly said that there would not be any extension or any similar amnesty for undocumented foreigners, anytime soon.
Unlike the 2018 amnesty, which allowed undocumented workers, to leave the country without facing any legal actions, this time, the illegal immigrants will be blacklisted and barred from entering Malaysia for an indefinite period.
“They have already started raids and arresting undocumented expats,” Tripathi added.