Malaysia extends amnesty scheme deadline for undocumented workersThe deadline extension till December 31 is expected to benefit over 10,000 undocumented Nepali workers based in the Southeast Asian country.
Malaysia has further extended the amnesty deadline for undocumented foreign nationals including Nepalis.
Malaysian authorities, through the amnesty scheme introduced last November, offer an opportunity for undocumented foreign workers to either return home voluntarily without facing any legal action or apply for legal status.
The amnesty deadline, which ended last month, has been extended one more time until December 31.
The extension of the deadline is expected to benefit more than 10,000 undocumented Nepali workers in the Southeast Asian country who could not use the scheme before its deadline expired on June 30.
“The amnesty scheme is a good opportunity for undocumented Nepali workers to either return home by paying minimum fines or start working legally after getting legal status,” said Deepak Dhakal, labour counsellor at the Nepali Embassy in Malaysia. “But as the country went into a lockdown during the last month of the scheme, we had asked the Malaysian government for an extension. Now, the scheme is available until December, which is good news for undocumented Nepali workers.”
The Malaysian government had launched the Illegal Immigrant Recalibration Plan in a bid to manage illegal immigrants in the country. Under the plan, there are two distinct programmes—Labour Recalibration Programme and the Return Recalibration Programme.
“During normal times, illegal or undocumented foreign nationals would be arrested and even jailed,” said Dhakal. “Unlike those times, this amnesty scheme is a good chance for undocumented workers to return home or legalise their status.”
The Return Recalibration Programme allows illegal immigrants to return to their respective countries voluntarily. In contrast, the Labour Recalibration Programme aims to allow illegal immigrants to get registered and find employment with eligible Malaysian employers.
Under the rehiring scheme of the Labour Recalibration Programme, Malaysian employers engaged in four sectors—construction, manufacturing, plantation and agriculture—can submit applications for hiring workers from among the undocumented ones as per the quota fixed by the Department of Labour.
Workers from 15 countries (Thailand, Cambodia, Nepal, Myanmar, Laos, Vietnam, the Philippines, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, India, and Indonesia) are eligible under the Illegal Immigrant Recalibration Plan.
However, such workers should not have any police case against them.
Since the programme was launched, the Nepali mission in Kuala Lumpur had been asking undocumented Nepali workers in the country to utilise the scheme and return home without facing any legal hurdles. However, during the initial months of the scheme, the response had been lukewarm compared to similar schemes in the past.
According to Pratik Karki, second secretary at the Nepali Embassy in Malaysia, the mission has issued more than 2,500 travel documents in the past seven months. Travel documents are issued to those undocumented workers who do not have valid documents like passports.
“Although not all of the travel documents were for the purpose of the return programme, a significant number involved those applying for repatriation,” Karki told the Post. “We can safely say that up to 90 percent of the travel documents were issued to workers wishing to return home.”
Those willing to return via the Return Recalibration Programme have to make an appointment with the Malaysian Immigration Department. On the scheduled day, the worker must be present with all the required documents and pay a fine of RM500 for receiving a checkout memo from the department for leaving the country.
Since the beginning of the programme, due to concerns over Covid-19, fewer slots were available for appointments.
The Nepali embassy, meanwhile, used to help the undocumented Nepali workers, who wanted to leave the country under the amnesty scheme, with their application process and scheduling their appointments.
When the Covid-19 situation got worse with the second wave hitting the country and imposition of restrictions on movement, targeted beneficiaries could not take advantage from the scheme.
“Most of their offices are still closed due to the high number of cases here. We had written to the relevant Malaysian offices stating the difficulties in fixing online appointments for those wishing to return home,” said Karki. “It should be significantly easier for people to return home with the establishment of an office at the airport itself.”
After extending the amnesty deadline, the Immigration Department of Malaysia has also opened special counters at Kuala Lumpur International Airport for those wishing to apply for the recalibration programme.
According to the department, undocumented immigrants in Malaysia will be able to proceed directly to these counters before heading home, provided that they have complete documents and fulfilled all other conditions for this programme.
For returning home, they must possess valid travel documents and air tickets and must be present at the Immigration Special Counter at Kuala Lumpur International Airport at least six hours before departure. They will not be required to apply for an appointment as before.
Besides, they must also make payment of RM500 and produce RT-PCR test results issued at least 72 hours before the flight date.
“We have been encouraging undocumented Nepalis to utilise the scheme for returning home and avoid legal actions, which they would be subjected to once the amnesty period ends,” said Dhakal. “The embassy has also been facilitating them by issuing travel documents and helping them with the payment which needs to be done online.”
Malaysian government’s amnesty programmes have remained popular among undocumented Nepali workers in recent years. In 2018, nearly 15,000 Nepali workers had returned home under the Voluntary Deportation Programme, also called the ‘3-plus-1’ programme. Likewise, nearly 6,000 Nepali workers returned home under the ‘Back for Good Programme’, which ended in December 2019.
What makes the latest scheme even more beneficial for undocumented Nepali migrant workers, who want to return home, is a lower fine amount.
“Going by the law, the fine would be up to RM3,000,” said Karki. “Even the ‘Back for Good Programme’ required them to pay RM700, making the current scheme a good opportunity for undocumented workers to return home.”