Immigration saddled with 'runaway' problem

This is written by my colleague Sim Bak Heng.

JOHOR BARU: The Home Ministry's legalisation exercise for foreign workers has attracted the least expected group -- legal foreign workers.

A sizeable number of legal foreign workers have been found to have exploited the exercise by "turning themselves into illegal workers" as soon as they heard the news about the exercise. 

The Immigration Department is not puzzled by the weird move, however. It is well aware of the tactics as these workers intend to run away from their employers in the hope of switching to better-paying jobs. The department has warned these workers against running away from their employers by telling them that no new work permits will be issued.

Immigration director-general Datuk Alias Ahmad said he received numerous complaints from employers and associations about the "runaway" problem.

"Do not attempt to abuse the good intent of the legalisation exercise and underestimate the department's wisdom. Remember, if you are a legal foreign worker, the department has the details of your work permit. Turning yourself into an illegal foreign worker and hoping to switch to a better-paying job or a different field, will only land you in hot water. I know some parties are instigating legal foreign workers to turn into illegals because there is money to be made," he told the New Straits Times.

The problem of runaways started following the announcement of the legalisation exercise for illegal foreign workers in June. The problem is experienced across many industries, including the construction, manufacturing and service sectors.

Small and Medium Enterprises Association of Malaysia deputy president Teh Kee Sin said legal foreign workers ran away for higher basic salaries, more overtime claims, better working environment and employers. He said foreign workers, like locals, also wanted to avoid dirty, difficult and dangerous work -- simply called the 3Ds.

While there is no statistic on the runaway rate, he said it was easily more than 10 per cent. "Some of the runaways are encouraged by employment agencies who see them as a golden opportunity to make money."

Furniture makers in Johor are worried as the runaway rate is between 10 and 20 per cent of the labour force in the sector. Muar Furniture Association chairman Bo Eng Chee said furniture makers not only lost their workers but also the levy they paid to employ foreign workers.

Meanwhile, Alias said the department was seeking the cooperation of all foreign embassies not to issue passports for runaway nationals. He urged all employers facing the problem of runaway workers to report to his department, the police and the respective embassies.

"By lodging a report with us, the levy they paid for their foreign workers will be safe."

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