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Tremulous two-decade journey to Permanent Residency

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A Foreign Spouse of a Malaysian Citizen shares the saga of her long journey to become a permanent resident.

At the Immigration Department
Photograph: amdtaufik.com

Last week, I got called to the Immigration department, to get the Permit Masuk. Little did I realise this was the long awaited Permanent Resident endorsement on my passport! As I collected my passport from the Desk Officer, lo and behold, it was stamped “Permanent Resident” of Malaysia -a status I had anxiously awaited for years.

I could not believe that this now meant no more long waits at the department, along with the the trauma and distress of not knowing the duration of visas we would be given. Though a mother of teenage kids now, I find it hard to forget the repeated day-long sit-outs with my infants at the crowded immigration department, trying to find a quiet corner to breastfeed my babies. Then there was the tedious queuing with our husbands who had to take leave from work to accompany us – for without them we could not get our visas renewed. That was besides having our restless older children in tow. Tired of the recurring visits, many of us spouses joked about “Immigration, our second home”.

Luckily for me, I reside in Kuala Lumpur; Chinese and African spouses have to travel to the federal immigration department from their states. Sometimes, we only got to know how much we had to pay for our visas at the counter. For me, this varied from RM100 for a special pass for one month to RM4000 for my levy. Bear in mind, we are poorly paid foreigners!

In the early 1990s, the only option to work was to be on a work permit. When I went to the erstwhile representative of Indian Malaysian, I was informed that only Indian priests were given work permits and I was asked to wait out my five-year period. What a shock for me who gave up a senior manager’s position in a public company that I would spend my prime time sitting at home!

Fast forward to an employer who got impressed by my fortitude and determination and decided to employ me taking all the trouble towards the documentation and submission of my work permit. Bless you, Mr Ling.

Later the spouse programme, a paltry offering towards employment of spouses that was riddled with bureaucratic delays, made it seem easier to work as an expat. In fact when I went to get my domestic helper’s employment pass renewed, I was simply baffled that within three working days, her pass was processed – unlike to my spouse programme visa, which took months to be renewed.
Other spouses were not so lucky. Drs and PhDs, were unable to get jobs for want of a work permit, and wisely relocated to other countries.

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Arguably the best policy by Immigration was scrapping this spouse programme and initiating the more friendly endorsement to work – a reprieve and relief for spouses today.

Daily living became a challenge when I could not open a bank account in my own name or when there were difficulties at the bank even to withdraw cash. When my husband and I wanted to buy our first home, I could not even co-own the home though I was contributing towards it.

I had to pay double charges in government hospital to deliver my Malaysian babies. On one occasion, I even had difficulty admitting my child into the government hospital for emergency treatment.

Much of our difficulties was not the policy per se, but really the interpretation of the rules and regulations by the attending desk officers. For instance, I was informed that I could not leave the country for five years to be eligible for PR. Three years down the line, when I went to check on the status and eligibility for PR, (oh, horrors) I was laughingly told that I was not eligible as I was on an employment pass and not on a long-term social visit pass. Adding insult to injury, I had not ventured out of the country even to visit my ageing parents as I wanted to qualify for PR.

Many times when we went to submit our documents for PR, we were given the runaround, from state to state. Now many of us realise that the officers probably did not want these files under them, as it meant more work on their desk!

Today, with numerous letters in the press and the increased numbers of spouses, the Immigration Department has initiated better policies. Hey, even PM will soon have a foreign spouse in his family! The Immigration website is now a useful resource to their policies and the documentation required. Spouses heaved a sighs of relief when the backlog of PR applications submitted up to 2009 were cleared.

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Still, much needs to be done, for the Immigration Policy to come on par with international conventions and protocols. Regardless of Talent Corp and the like, if our policy was friendlier and less rigid, many professionals and their spouses would not have moved to more welcoming receiving countries.

I won’t be doing justice to the coming generation of foreign spouses, if I don’t put in a word of recommendation for them. Bear in mind, foreign spouses of Malaysian citizens are the primary care givers and providers for their Malaysian families. Income earned by them is spent within the country, there is no capital outflow, and they raise the standards of family life and create stability for the family unit.

It is not only prudent but also essential that the process and time frames for Permanent Residency should be less tedious for them. The current five-year wait for spouses is way too long to qualify for Permanent Residency. These days many of the younger generation are impatient. With Malaysia becoming a hub for education, our young adults are marrying their international student classmates. Today, these graduate foreign spouses, who are unable to qualify for management trainee programmes or to get licences to practice their professions sans PR, often find that moving to a country with a more open policy is a far more appealing prospect.

Removal of the letter of permission to work, a mandatory requirement, to be provided by the husband is essential. It is really demeaning and takes us back by decades. Not only does it erode the dignity of the woman, it does not reflect a contemporary and progressive Malaysia.

Finally, it augurs well to be gracious and humane to spouses who are separated, divorced and widowed and to extend Permanent Residency to them. Moreover, in a custodial battle, it will benefit the Malaysian children as it allows for easy visitation rights and access to children in an already difficult situation.

The current ruling for this category of spouses keeps them in a situation of dependency on a sponsor who has an income of RM2000 to have access to a renewable six-month visa that does not provide for employment. This is rather severe and detrimental to the well being of spouses and their children.

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To prevent the brain drain and in an endeavour to retain talent within the nation, let us be kinder to newer and younger foreign spouses of Malaysian citizens and maintain rules, regulations and policies that are in line with international standards.

I came to Malaysia as a young bride; little did I expect that the road to PR would be so bumpy. Today, though I am a greying (albeit skilfully coloured!!) spouse of a Malaysian citizen with teenage children, I am very happy to be a Permanent Resident in fascinating ‘Incredible Malaysia’.

Needless to say, with PR, I won’t have the worry that if anything untoward was to happen, I would have to leave my children unattended in the country and head home. Or that I would be dependent on a sponsor and until death, merely to be on a renewable six-month visa without being granted an endorsement to work!

Life is already mired in the difficulties of making ends meet; we work hard and long to pay our ever-increasing bills. Yet our monthly income barely pays for the month’s expenses these days; our money seems to be buying us less each day. I now find myself in the stressful situation of waiting for the next salary before the middle of the month.

Suffice to say, that many of us busy moms sleep and wake up in the same day, getting a mere four hours of rest. It seems that catering to the needs and well-being of our families literally saps us of our energy.

It is my prayer that the next generation of foreign spouses will have a shorter and easier journey to PR. It will ensure a better chance of success not only in their marriage, but also enhance the quality of their family life.

Foreign spouses bring with them their rich cultural heritage and their international exposure will heighten bench-marked standards not just within their own Malaysian families but also the community, their work organisations and the nation. Undoubtedly, this heritage and exposure will contribute to the transformation of this nation.

Spouse of a Malaysian citizen and now a happy Permanent Resident

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