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Ordeal of a foreign spouse

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This is not Ripley’s Believe it or Not, but it is faster to get an employment pass for a domestic helper than for a foreign spouse. The same goes for visa extensions, a process which can stretch from hours to days, laments Aavaz.

For 16 years I’ve fought this fight; for 16 years, the Immigration Department has been my second home.

Seriously I have exhausted all means, perhaps you can give me some fresh ideas on how change can be sought.

I have sent this letter to almost all women NGOs (they are grossly understaffed and tend to handle urgent cases), Bar Council (no response), MPs (several questions asked in Parliament – mumbo jumbo replies were given). Mr Lim Kit Siang was initiating some sort of debate; however, that day I think the opposition walked out.

The Home Minister about two months ago said that the matter would be looked into – when, I wonder? So now thats what we foreign spouses of Malaysian are: an ignored segment of Malaysian society.

Ordeal of a foreign spouse – the reality of life in Malaysia: My story

Several letters have been published in the press, but we’re a forgotten segment of Malaysian society. I am a foreign spouse of a Malaysian Citizen and 16 years down the line, I feel that I am accorded worse treatment than an illegal. At least illegals after a while, do get amnesty, but not spouses.

There are many of us here for 12-20 years, still on a dependent pass or an employment pass, still waiting for years and even decades not for citizenship, but for mere Permanent Resident status.

Foreign spouses find life in Malaysia really difficult because the law, if any, is so grey that it varies in interpretation from immigration officer to officer.

Many of us even have to resort to merely doing volunteer service, though it is a necessity to be an income earner. Some of us lucky ones manage to get an employment pass on the spouse visa; however, not many employers are prepared to employ a foreign spouse due to the tedious paperwork. Yes, of course only employers with a paid up capital of over RM200K can employ us. Many even exploit us and pay some measly sum as token salary. When we wish to change jobs, there is a cooling off period between employers to cool our heels for six months.

Life in Malaysia is near traumatic for us and here’s more.

This is not Ripley’s Believe it or Not, but it is faster to get an employment pass for a domestic maid than for a foreign spouse. The same goes for extensions of the visa, long waits that stretch from hours to days; yes, we are the spouses of Malaysian Citizens.

By the way, it may be that it is also easier and less procedural for expatriates to get an employment pass than spouses of Malaysian citizens.

We have to pay double charges in Government hospitals even when we are delivering Malaysian citizens. We have to pay fees of foreigners to study in public Universities. Even for a visit to KLCC Aquarium, we pay tourist rates while the rest of our family pay differently – even though we are more Malaysian than most Malaysians!!

We have to carry our passports wherever we go; however students, workers, and, if I am not mistaken, even domestic maids get an ID card. A housewife cannot even open an account in some of the banks; we cannot deposit money through the ATM because our bank account is called an external account – such is the treatment for spouses of Malaysian Citizens.

Oh wait, we forgot to mention the yearly visits to the Immigration – in fact it is a joke of sorts amongst spouses, that the “Immigration Department is our Second Home!!”Long waits, irrespective of infants in our hands; some have to travel from various states to Putrajaya just to get a spouse visa.

By the way, we have to be accompanied by our spouses to the Immigration department when the submission is being done, this process can take up to 6-7 hours; more often for submission and approval it takes several visits, never mind that the spouse has just given a declaration that we are still married in front of the Commissioner of Oaths.

Why is this section of people so neglected? We take care of our Malaysian families, the future Malaysian generation, yet we are a forgotten segment of Malaysian society.

Husbands of Malaysian women have it even worse; so also we understand that Chinese spouses are not even allowed to apply for PR status. Many Malaysian with foreign spouses have left the country in sheer frustration. Many of us are highly educated and are professionals, and we cannot even get jobs here; so why would we undergo so much hardship for so many years? Only for our families. Stop treating us like criminals.

The Home Minister is the only approving authority for PR, and only few approvals are given per month. Is this a fair deal where there are a few thousand still waiting; something is very wrong in the system then. We also know that priority is given for those applying for the more lucrative “Malaysia my Second Home.” So now it boils down to the fact that “only money talks” If in Sabah and Sarawak foreigners have easily been given ICs, why can’t this be done for foreign spouses?

In this global environment, where travel is so much easier and national boundaries are getting more seamless, the Home Ministry and Immigration should look into its policies and engage itself with more modern policies and practises that reflect good governance. It is only appropriate that spouses of Malaysians should be given fair status and have rational rules and regulations.

The writer has not touched on what happens in cases where there is separation or divorce involved… Do the children have to relocate to the non-Malaysian parent’s home country because the parent’s visa in Malaysia will not get extended?

What needs immediate attention is the immigration law itself for spouses of citizens. Today in countries such as UK, USA, Australia and nearer home in Singapore, no more than two years of living together is required to secure PR status – marriage is not even a necessity in these countries.

Whilst I do appreciate my application to be speeded up, I am seeking a review and reform of the law, its governance both at Federal and State level, and that of policy and procedures within the various immigration departments particularly for foreign spouses.

This will also be beneficial to the nation as many spouses are highly qualified and are seeking the employment market. Some have even indicated that they are willing to return should it be easier to gain employment.

This is not a work of fiction but the reality of life faced by Spouses of Malaysian Citizens.

The above was a comment left on Aliran member Charles Hector’s blog in response to an entry ‘Foreign spouses should get PR status on registration of marriage’


The views expressed in Aliran's media statements and the NGO statements we have endorsed reflect Aliran's official stand. Views and opinions expressed in other pieces published here do not necessarily reflect Aliran's official position.

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