Friday, June 5, 2009

Forum and Workshop on Foreign Spouses in Malaysia

Organised by WANITA MCA & Institute of Strategic Analysis and Policy Research (INSAP)

Officiating Speech by YB Datin Paduka Chew Mei Fun, National Chairman of Wanita MCA cum Deputy Minister of Women, Family and Community Development

Firstly, I would like to extend our gratitude to the panel speakers- En Zaidi Bin Yahya, Chief Assistant Director of Visa, Pass and Permit Division of the Immigration Department; Ms Bina Ramanand, Coordinator of Foreign Spouses Support Group (FSSG) and Ms Pushpa Ratnam, Bar Council who have kindly accepted our invitation to speak at this forum which aims to inform us of the current laws and policies which affect foreign spouses; key challenges faced by foreign spouses; and best practices in other countries in relation to foreign spouses.

Secondly, I’d like to thank Ms Pushpa Ratnam from the Bar Council, Ms Alice Lee Sok Wah, Chairman of the Selangor and Wilayah Chinese Assembly Hall and Mr David Yoong, MCA Wilayah Public Service and Complaints Bureau, for agreeing to facilitate three breakout groups for Session 2 on topics right to stay, right to work and rights of children to foreign parent respectively. Thanks also to Sumitha Shaanthinni, Bar Council and Ivy Josiah from Women’s Aid Organisation (WAO) in facilitating Session 3 and Session 4 respectively.

And to all the participants today, thank you for your time and efforts in participating in this forum and workshop with the aim of drafting a Joint Memorandum on Foreign Spouses in Malaysia to be presented to the Minister of Home Affairs.

Wanita MCA, a women’s wing of MCA firmly believes in upholding the principle of non-discrimination and gender equality. We also take interests in issues which affect the well being of all irrespective of gender, ethnicity or nationality.

As such, this forum and workshop was mooted out of our concern for long-standing challenges faced by foreign spouses, both foreign wives and husbands and also children of a foreign parent. Foreign spouses of Malaysian men and women continue to face numerous challenges on several fronts primarily on the issue of right to stay, right to work and rights of their children.

There is an estimated 100,000 foreign spouses in Malaysia. However, according to the former Home Minister Datuk Seri Syed Hamid Albar, there were more than 8,600 entry permits issued to foreigners including spouses and children of Malaysians to stay in the country between 2001-2008; of which the majority are Thais, second largest Indonesians followed by Indians, Singaporeans, Filipinos and other nationalities. (New Straits Times, 12 Mar 2009). Perhaps with the briefing later from Mr Zaidi Bin Yahya, we would be more informed of the status of foreign spouses with social visit visa, spousal visa, permanent residency and citizenship.

In discussing this issue on foreign spouses, we often hear challenges faced by foreign women married to Malaysian men, Malaysian women’s foreign husband and children. There is one commonality though- women!

In this 21st century, women still face discrimination and gender inequality primarily due to unequal gender relations between women and men. There are stereotypical gender roles and responsibilities attached to women and men which are often commonly accepted and uncontested by the general public. With gender stereotyping, there is a clear division of roles between men and women.

It is no wonder that there are different sets of standard applied to foreign spouse of a female citizen as opposed to foreign spouse to a male citizen in respect of right to stay, right to work and right of conferring citizenship to children. Such disparity may also be reflected in national policies and laws in Malaysia such as the Federal Constitution and immigration laws where provisions are silent for foreign spouse of female Malaysian citizen. Thus, there is an impending need to review policies and laws which are less favourable towards women.

Right to stay, right to work and rights of children to foreign parent are core issues affecting foreign spouses in Malaysia.

On the issue of right to stay, both foreign wives and foreign husbands face an array of challenges with regard to renewal of social visit pass or spousal visa and application for permanent residency and citizenship. As we understand, the process of renewal for spousal visa and process of application for residency and citizenship is often lengthy and cumbersome for many foreign spouses because of the need for frequent renewals, ranging from monthly, quarterly to half-yearly.

Next, the mandatory requirement for the presence of the sponsor of a foreign spouse which is usually the Malaysian female or male citizen poses great challenge to most. Such mandatory requirement for the presence of the sponsor is particularly problematic in cases involving domestic violence. This would put women in very precarious situation where they are vulnerable to further abuse and may have to continue enduring violence in their home for fear of being deported.

Compounding this would be if the foreign wife has children who are Malaysians, she would fear having to be deported without her children. Similarly in situations where their husband disappears or in the case of divorce, the foreign wife faces real risk of deportation without a sponsor. Thus, foreign wives may be stranded here in Malaysia for she may not be able to return to her home country with her children due to various factors such as financial constraints and that her children need to stay in Malaysia since they are Malaysian citizens.

However, the issue in question is the right of stay of foreign wife who has stayed in Malaysia for some good years and has the intention to stay in Malaysia. Do our Federal Constitution and immigration policies and laws permit such circumstances or even accord the right to stay to a foreign spouse, especially those with children?

What about the right to stay of a foreign husband married to a Malaysian female citizen compared to a foreign wife? In reality, they face different standards in terms of their right to stay. Based on the NGO Shadow report on the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) 2005, foreign husbands can stay in Malaysia on social visit passes whilst foreign wives on dependent passes. Further, they face delays in their application for permanent residency; in some cases, even rejection within a month of application for entry permit by foreign husbands, whilst application for the same by foreign wives would not be outright rejected but still be in the process of ‘pending approval’. There appears to be a double standard in procedure for the application of PR status between foreign husbands and wives to Malaysian citizens where foreign husband can only apply based on his employment status whilst for foreign wife just by virtue of her marriage to a Malaysian citizen. In addition, a foreign wife is eligible to apply for permanent residency with a minimum of 5 years continuous residency in Malaysia, however for foreign husbands, the minimum requirement is 10 years.

Similarly, in the case of citizenship- while it is expressly stipulated in Article 15(1) of the Federal Constitution that any woman whose husband is a Malaysian citizen and with continuous residence in Malaysia for at least two years prior to application is entitled to apply to be a citizen; however such privilege is not equally accorded to a man married to a Malaysian woman. The foreign husband may have to resort to applying for citizenship under Article 19 of the Federal Constitution which requires the stay of 10 years in the country. As such our Immigration laws may not be fair to the male spouse of a Malaysian woman.

To our understanding, it is the prerogative of the Immigration Department to accept or reject any application for PR. As such, most applicants are not informed of reasons for their rejected application. Similarly for citizenship, a foreign wife is entitled to apply for citizenship after 2 years of stay in Malaysia, in reality many foreign wives are still not citizens of Malaysia.

Next, on the issue of right to work for foreign spouses, reports have shown that the process of getting a job is much easier for an expatriate or even spouse of expatriate than foreign spouses of Malaysians. Some foreign wives with high qualification could not obtain PR to work. In relation to right to work for foreign husband, they are required to fulfil certain conditions. Foreign husbands who may not be professionals or technically skilled would be denied right to work and right to stay. According to paragraph 3(1) of the Immigration (Prohibition of Entry) Order 1983, non-professional foreign men married to Malaysian women face the risk of losing their work permits or visa. This may result in an overwhelming burden on the female Malaysian citizen with foreign spouse having to support her family. This may even drive Malaysia women married to foreign spouses to leave Malaysia for other countries just to continue to survive in the interest of her family.

The other disparity is that foreign husbands are allowed to stay for one year on a social visit pass to look for gainful employment from September 2001 onwards, however, such is not required of foreign wives- they can stay on social visit visa as dependents.

And lastly, the impending issue of rights of children of a foreign parent. Malaysian women who give birth to children outside Malaysia do not enjoy the same rights as their Malaysian male counterpart who could confer citizenship to their children irrespective of their place of birth. Again, in the event of separation and divorce where the Malaysian woman would like to return home with her children, they may face some challenges. If her children were not born in Malaysia, her children may not share the same privilege to free education as other children who are Malaysian would.

In sum, different standards applied to foreign wife and foreign husband in Malaysia due to disparity in laws, policies and implementation of policies and laws in relation to the right to stay, right to work and rights of children to a foreign parent undoubtedly reflects the gender role stereotype of men as breadwinners and women as dependents.

Thus, we are gathered here today to deliberate all challenges facing foreign spouses from right to stay, right to work to rights of their children. Today Wanita MCA is taking the initiative to ease the burden of foreign spouses.

Given the old adage that love is blind, if I may add- love is colour blind, thus love knows no boundaries of race, colour, nationality. If someone were to fall in love with a person from another country, our country should be able to accord the spouse of our Malaysian friends with basic rights and privileges as a human being.

I am confident that we as a collective would be able to come up with a joint memorandum with substantive recommendations given the extensive experience on the ground and knowledge from all of you on challenges facing foreign spouses. Our efforts would bring us a step closer in promoting and protecting rights of foreign spouses in Malaysia in line with our national and international pledge in promoting non-discrimination and gender equality for women.

Once again, on behalf of the organisers, I would like to thank all NGOs and component parties who are here today to support this forum. It is our fervent hope that we could also work closely in future in other issues which is of best interest to the nation as a whole but also in particular in the best interest of women.

And with that, I officiate this Forum and Workshop on Foreign spouses in Malaysia.
Thank you.


阿土伯 said...



aavaz said...

Thank you, YB for giving us a platform to create awareness, dialogue and recommend policy change.

The voices of Foreign spouses for too long have been unheard. We do hope that at least the PR process will be hastened to ensure stablility in the lives of foreign spouses and their Malaysian Family.
Bina Ramanand