BY LIM TECK GHEE
The recent ruckus over the plan to bring in as many as 1.5 million Bangladeshi workers into the country should shine the spotlight not only on the topic of foreign labour in Malaysia but also more crucially, on our migration policy.
In any country especially one with relatively open and porous borders – whether it is first, second or third world; developing or developed – one would expect that a national migration policy would receive priority attention, and be placed at the forefront of public policy and attention.
Such a policy would be accompanied by transparent disclosure of what the targets of that migration policy are, whether these targets have been met, and whether there needs to be refinements or changes to policy implementation.
Details of the policy would be published on a regular basis to enable all stakeholders to scrutinize and monitor the policy, and provide feedback to policy makers.
The excerpt below is from the web page of the Australian Government’s official migration blog set up by its Department of Immigration and Border Protection and relates to its migrant intake for 2015.
Up to 190,000 permanent migration places will be available in 2015-16 as announced by the Minister for Immigration and Border Protection as part of the Budget on 12 May 2015.
The number of permanent places available will remain the same as last year. This includes up to:
128,550 places for skilled migrants, including employer sponsored, general skilled and business categories;
57,400 places for family migrants sponsored by immediate family members; and
565 places for special eligibility migrants, who include former permanent residents who have maintained close business, cultural or personal ties with Australia.
Australia is a good example of a country that recognises the importance of migration in its development and deals with it openly and transparently.
Another of its official websites notes how migration has changed Australia from an overwhelmingly Anglo-Celtic society to a culturally diverse one with a quarter of the population born overseas and another quarter with one or more parents born overseas.
It explains that “[m]igration has created a vibrant and complex society, with many ways of recognising the ties that bind. Most Australians acknowledge their ethnicity. It has become part and parcel of being an Australian. It has become one way that Australians connect with the past, share a sense of belonging with others and shape the pattern of their lives”.
Migration policy in Malaysia
So what do we have in the way of a migration policy in Malaysia where we have an even more diverse population than our neighbour and where the migrant inflow has run into the millions during the past two or three decades.
Really little or nothing in the way of a coherent policy. Instead we basically have a policy black hole in which programmes, people, facts and figures basically disappear for long periods of time until some horror story emerges and we read about death camps of refugees being smuggled into the country or some gross abuse or exploitation of foreign contract workers. And after that story has run for a few days, we are back again in that black hole from which no light emerges.
Why does that policy black hole exist? In the case of foreign labour, the employer preference for cheap labour is the main culprit. And when this is combined with ketuanan Melayu and the ultimately self pain inflicted racial electoral number politics practised by UMNO especially since Tun Dr Mahathir Moahamad’s period as Prime Minister, we have the explanation for the recent demographic transformations that have changed the character of the nation.
Let us also not forget that the migration flow of foreign workers generates enormous profits especially for those at the top of the migrant market business. The contract to bring in 1.5 million Bangladeshi workers alone has been estimated to be worth RM4.5 billion.
Besides the companies engaged in the lucrative business of bringing in foreign labour, the below the radar inflow of illegals, refugees and displaced persons has provided opportunities for corruption, extortion, rent seeking, sex and drug trafficking and human rights abuses for middle and lower level personnel of the police force, immigration department staff and other official agencies.
It can be said that the migration business in the country is one which not only generates billions of ringgit in financial transactions; it is also the source of much human exploitation, misery and suffering. It may also be the reason explaining the longevity of the Barisan Nasional government.
The solutions to the many sided issues and implications arising from past, present and future migration flows are among the most complex socio-economic challenges the country faces. But they have been rendered impossible to arrive at by our policy black hole and the political vested interests and imperatives driving them.
The start to finding solutions
We need to put the migration subject squarely in the public arena and begin formulating a comprehensive national migration policy the way that Australia has done by involving all main stakeholders, especially the trade unions and international and national organizations responsible for undocumented migrants and refugees.
And once that policy is in place, we can establish an appropriate institutional authority and infrastructure, and with the necessary changes in law and regulations to ensure full transparency, effective management and good governance; and which are freed from partisan political considerations, start to implement it – the way that other developed nations are doing.