Home Civil Society Voices 2016 Civil Society Voices Survival manual for foreign spouses of Malaysian citizens

Survival manual for foreign spouses of Malaysian citizens

At the Immigration Department
Photograph: amdtaufik.com

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The Foreign Spouses of Malaysians group has come up with this guide specially aimed at foreign spouses who are newly wed or relocating to Malaysia.

Congratulations and welcome to Malaysia. This ‘manual’ has been prepared to give you an overview and assist you in coping with some of the challenges faced by foreign spouses married to Malaysians. It will also prepare you for this Malaysian experience.

We suggest you read this together, with your Malaysian spouse, as everything here affects not just you, the foreign spouse, but also affects the life of the Malaysian spouse and the children to come.

By the way, the last time a count was done at immigration several years ago, we numbered 100,000 spouses. Mainly young couples like yourself who come to the country with great expectations, only to get floored by bureaucratic delays, difficulties in securing jobs and disillusionment with the daunting situation ahead.

The reason this Survival Manual was put together is so that you may not be as clueless as we were, and we hope that it will throw some light on what lies ahead.

First things first. We hope that your registration of marriage (ROM) has been completed with Jabatan Pendaftaran Negara (JPN) or the National Registration Department.

Now that you are happily married, it makes you eligible to apply for a (very) long-term social visit pass (LTSVP). We know the name sounds as if we spouses are visitors only when in fact we are in the serious business of raising a Malaysian family in Malaysia.

Be sure that Malaysian wifey/hubby takes leave and accompanies you for every visit to Immigration. Often repeated visits are required for each renewal of visa – be prepared to stay the entire day. It is a running joke among us spouses that Immigration is our second home!

Ahh, yes, once you receive your visa you may be worried with the statement on your visa: “any form of employment is strictly prohibited – SPOUSE OF A MALAYSIAN CITIZEN.”

Stay calm; luckily spouses are now allowed to work with an endorsement on the passport; in the 1990s, we were not allowed to work, and many of us lost our prime time while we waited for permanent residence (PR).

Well, be prepared that you will not be allowed to work until you are on a one-year visa; so for the first six months or so, you are required to cool your heels, just sit back to the “forced unemployment”, courtesy of the state bureaucracy. Enjoy the sunny weather, get adjusted to the Malaysian way of life; we wonder if the bureaucracy expects us to live merely on love and fresh air?

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Notwithstanding that you are the man/woman of the house and need a job to support the family, it is essential that you obtain a letter from your Malaysian spouse giving you permission to work!

An offer letter from your employer is also a requisite, in order to get the endorsement. Most employers are hesitant to accept spouses for employment when they see that statement on the visa; however, we hope that you are among the lucky ones to find an employer to take you on board.

Now that you have managed the difficult part of securing employment, here’s the most annoying: your employer only needs to pay RM5 per month for EPF, while they deduct 11% off your salary towards it! Not fair, right? After all EPF is the only savings most Malaysians workers have at retirement.

But that’s not all, though you have contributed to EPF, you are not allowed to make withdrawals to buy a house for your Malaysian family nor for your Malaysian child’s college education.

Now for the worst: you will be asked to produce an air ticket to your home country to withdraw at age 55, if you still haven’t got your PR. (Heck, after 25-30 years here and losing ties in our birth country, they still don’t realise that Malaysia is our home?)

Shush… most of us who came in the early 1990s thought that PR would come only posthumously, though these days the process is a bit quicker, you merely wait for years, not decades as we did.

Now if you need to buy a house, you will have to buy one that is above RM1m, and if it is jointly purchased with your spouse, make sure the home is above RM2m; yes, yes, we know you are purchasing the home for your Malaysian family.

Wonder if the Ministry of Housing and Local Government is listening? Bet, you did not expect that you would be treated as a mere foreign investor, right? This is life for us foreign spouses and we are only half way through, bro/sista!

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OK, just so that the smaller things don’t get forgotten, you will have to pay tourist rates at theme and leisure parks and other tourist attractions, while your Malaysian family pays local rates. Oh yes, there is a deposit that has to be paid if you want a phone line.

You also get less interest at the banks for fixed deposits. For a credit card, some providers ask for a monthly salary of RM12,000 and others will ask for a deposit of RM10,000. Not many of us are in that income bracket; perhaps you will have better luck than us.

This is a gentle reminder to you to carry your passport wherever you go. Often, we foreigners are the target of spot checks by our efficient men in blue! No excuse accepted even if you are in swimming attire. Once, we were asked for documents by the coastguard while island-hopping. We had to return to the hotel to show my passport. That was the end of our sightseeing, much to the disappointment of my Malaysian kids, and no refunds given for the fare paid.

Now, make sure that you also carry your marriage certificate with you should you seek treatment at the government hospital; otherwise, you will be charged the same rate as those poor migrant workers and believe it or not, it does cost as much as those pricey private medical centres.

Just a little more to bear, as we enter the home run of PR. You are eligible to apply for PR, after being five years on the LTVSP, although approval for PR may take even longer. Some of us were given the runaround just to obtain the PR application forms, which were mysteriously out of print! You may not face this problem.

Then you both compile loads of documents for submission based on the checklist and forms which are available at state immigration departments. These days you have the facility of their website, which lists the documents required.

You then submit the PR documents at the state immigration department. We were sent to different state departments before our documents got accepted. After submission, both of you have to wait for the interview call, then another longer wait for the police check.

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Oh, but you can track the progress on the immigration website. For years, our status stated “sedang di proses”.

Arguably, it is more difficult and takes longer for male spouses to get PR, and officers at immigration admit it too! Years pass by, children have become adults and it is quite embarrassing if one is still on the LTVSP, while many others boast of holding not just the Red MyPR but the cool Blue IC.

Yes, yes, we are often reminded and we are well aware that PR is not a right but a privilege. Haven’t they realised that money earned by spouses is spent here in Malaysia on our Malaysian families, rather than the constant rant we hear of cash outflows?

Finally, the day arrives when your spouse receives the mail to collect the letter for the long-awaited Permit Masuk. Then another wait for JPN to process the My PR card. All in all, about 7-10 years and you would be lucky to have the PR within that time. OK, that’s it – unbelievable, isn’t it?

For us, it took much longer, and it was surreal when I held dearly onto My PR. We celebrated the long grind to this momentous day, my eldest in college, my close-to-retirement hubby and I. It sure was a long wait, from the day I came in as a young bride in the 1990s; the century turned and I with greying hair holding on to my Malaysian PR! We hope the authorities will be kinder on you.

Oh yes, lets quickly cover citizenship: though most of us get mired in the PR process, we just forget that citizenship is available to us. Now while women spouses are eligible for citizenship two years after PR, male spouses have to wait 10 years after PR for citizenship by naturalisation.

We’ve run through the gamut and left out the nitty-gritty so that you don’t get put off. Don’t be like many other professional spouses who left the country unwilling to face the tedious processes; there’s been enough brain drain.

Welcome to the club and we wish you both the very best!

It will be a pleasure to meet up with you on our Facebook page or if you have any queries: Foreign Spouses Support Group

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