Drawn By Greener Pastures Among The Reasons Why Migrants Overstay

his article is the first of a three-part series which throws the spotlight on the “excess” of migrants in the country. Here, the writer focuses on whether there are far too many migrants in the country or merely a misconception among the public.


The sun was above the head when the morning wet market in Meru, Klang, Selangor, was still abuzz with activity – customers haggling for bargains while sellers wanted to close their sales for the day.

At a stall selling fresh chicken, a man in his 30s – who  was obviously a foreigner - was busy cutting a whole chicken into pieces for customers.

"I’m from Bangladesh and have been in this business for the past one year,” he said, with no qualms about revealing himself when asked by Bernama.

The well-built and moderately tall man, who prefers to be called Karim, said that he had no choice but to work as a trader illegally as his work permit at a plastic product processing factory in Selangor was not renewed by his employer.

 "I’m not worried if the authorities were to conduct raids here. What’s important is I can save some money for my own expenses and send them to my wife and two kids who are still young in Bangladesh,” he said in broken Malay.

Among the foreigners who were seen running illegal businesses during a BERNAMA survey at a morning market in Meru, recently.

Asked why he did not return to Bangladesh after the expiry of his permit, Karim said that he did not have enough money to do so.

 “(But) now I can make a profit of about RM100 a day from just doing nothing,” said Karim, who owns a van.

However, as he is now working here illegally, he feared that he might be caught by the authorities, noting that he could not afford to pay the fines if he is arrested. 

“That’s the reason why I have to save as much money as I can from now. If anything happens to me, I can afford it,” he added.



According to local traders when met at the market, Karim is among tens of migrants who are engaged in business here, most of whom selling wet food such as vegetables, fish and chicken.

 “If there’s a raid they would be running helter-skelter and just abandon their produce,” said a trader, who declined to be named.

The growing presence of migrants like Karim within the community has raised public alarm especially among the local traders, who alleged that the illegal migrants are giving a run for their money.

 Commenting on the issue, Secretary General of the International Humanitarian Organisation (MHO) Datuk Hishamuddin Hashim opined that Malaysia is regarded as a haven for migrants to earn a living.

As such, he did not rule out the possibility that the migrants’ ‘refusal’ to return home after expiry of their permit as among the factors contributing to the “excess” of this group in the country today.

Datuk Hishamuddin Hashim

  “They originally had valid documents such as Temporary Work Permit (PLKS) or Social Visit Pass (PLS) with a contract or for a certain period, but were not renewed or they remain in the country with their   expired permit as it is easy to earn a livelihood here,” he    told Bernama.

Earlier, the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) reported that there are approximately 1.2 million to 3.5 million undocumented or irregular migrants to Malaysia as of 2022.

A source from the Ministry of Home Affairs told Bernama, as of early this year, the total migrant workers in six formal sectors covering construction and manufacturing is about two million – below the 2.4 million projected by the Ministry of Economy and the 12th Malaysia Plan.

According to the source, the forecast was based on the premise that only 15 per cent of foreign workers are allowed to work in the country at a given time compared to the total local workforce. At present, there are about 17 million local workers in these sectors.

 “Despite the risks of being fined RM1,000 or a jail term of not exceeding six months for those who fail to comply with conditions under the PLKS and PLS, they are unfazed and don’t seem to be afraid of (our) laws. This is the reality today,” said Hishamuddin.

He did not also dismiss the possibility of foreign workers who were terminated at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic in this country chose to break the immigration law by staying here illegally.

 “At that time, they could not return to their country of origin as the borders were closed. Now that the borders have reopened, they still refused to go home. Why is this so? In my opinion, the key driving factor is economy,” he said.

He said that the problem has worsened as many of these foreign workers have ventured into sectors that are supposed to be dominated by locals such as grocery stores, laundry services as well as jobs as cashiers at supermarkets, etc.

 “In this regard, I propose that laws should be tightened to prevent foreign workers from being involved in the business sector and rippling through the economy of the locals,” he added.



Based on surveys conducted among local traders, especially those at morning and night markets in the Klang Valley, these migrants had no difficulty in acquiring a business space despite the fact that there is already an authority managing the site.

 “This is really mind-boggling, how could these foreigners easily gain business access when we ourselves have to apply for a space and pay fees,” shared Hamidah (not her real name), a trader at the morning market when met by Bernama in Meru.

 “It’s unfair as we need to apply for business permit from the local authority (PBT) and pay for site rental, but they can just set up a tent without a licence or permit. As local traders, we are very uncomfortable with this situation.

 “How can we expand our business when buyers have a choice to buy at this ‘illegal shop’?” asked the trader, who sells cooking items such as onions and potatoes.

Deputy Head of Population and Migration Research Centre, Universiti Malaya, Assoc Prof Dr Mashitah Hamidi said without a doubt, some of the migrants’ attitude towards the people’s culture and tradition had ignited discomfort among the locals. 

 “They usually stay in clusters and appear to be living in their own world, and besides, they do not really understand the laws, hence they believe they are not being watched. That’s the reason why they dare (to do whatever they wish) and are not bothered with the effects from their actions,” she told Bernama.

Assoc Prof Dr Mashitah Hamidi

At the same time, she opined that the migrants’ domination in a certain area is due to the absence of regular and continuous monitoring.

"Besides that, the national borders should be well-guarded and maintained as in Australia where it can track in detail the movement of foreigners entering the country. If monitoring of work passes or social visits can be carried out in a consistent manner, we can definitely prevent such a situation from rearing its ugly head,” she added.



Sharing similar sentiments, EMIR Research Head of Social, Law and Human Rights Jason Loh said the level of commitment towards monitoring and enforcement of migrants’ entry into the country is still low.

Referring to the system of hiring foreign workers, he cited the prevalence of irresponsible parties who are manipulating the system for hefty profits.

 “They are taking advantage of the nation’s demand for foreign labour as a shortcut to reaping lucrative profits. The workers are left without supervision after being brought into the country,” he said, adding that responsible employers would ensure that their workers are sent back to their country of origin on expiry of their work permit. 

However, as they are reluctant to bear the costs, the employers would just shirk their responsibility of providing for the wellbeing of the workers who end up becoming illegal immigrants.

A foreign man hid in a water tank to avoid being caught by law enforcement officers during a recent operation by the Malaysian Immigration Department in Negeri Sembilan.

"When this happens, the pressure of life forced these migrants to do whatever available opportunities to earn a living, including conducting business illegally. In fact, some committed robbery. But these crimes are usually associated with personal and individual traits, such as the mental state of the offender or that the foreign worker was previously a criminal back home,” he added.


Translated by Salbiah Said



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