The Malaysian government has extended the duration of its Labour Recalibration Plan as thousands of undocumented migrant workers could not utilise this opportunity amid the Covid-19 pandemic.
The programme – which began last year – was scheduled to conclude on 30 June, but Malaysia extended it till 31 December this year, says the country's immigration web portal.
"The Bangladesh High Commission in Malaysia has acknowledged the extension of Labour Recalibration Plan," a Bangladeshi journalist based in Malaysia, Ahmadul Kobir told The Business Standard quoting an insider.
More than 2 lakh undocumented Bangladeshis now have the opportunity to become regularised under the programme as many missed the previous deadline, according to an unofficial estimate.
What is the Labour Recalibration Plan?
Last November, the Malaysian government announced the Labour Recalibration Plan to allow employers in construction, manufacturing, plantation and agriculture sectors to legally employ undocumented foreign workers.
Later in April this year, a new category of employers were allowed to participate in the initiative to prevent critical sectors from suffering losses due to a shortage of workers.
The scope was further extended to employers in the sub-sectors of the service industry (such as restaurants), cargo, wholesale and retail, and cleaning services. An employer has to apply to the Labour Department for hiring such foreign workers, and no third parties will be involved in the process.
Under the labour recalibration programme, 5,151 employers in Malaysia have so far sent the names and details of 110,817 illegal workers to the government, reports Malaysian online news portal The Star on 12 June.
Journalist Ahmadul Kobir told The Business Standard by phone that the employers of Malaysia had documented details of around 1.5 lakh illegal workers from various countries till date and around 14% of them were Bangladeshis.
The programme mainly covers undocumented workers from 15 countries, including Bangladesh, Myanmar, Nepal, Cambodia and Thailand.
Many Bangladeshi workers have become undocumented in Malaysia after going to the country legally. Some stayed there illegally after entering as a student or a tourist. There are also media reports of Bangladeshis illegally entering Malaysia travelling by boats or by crossing borders.
Repatriation Recalibration Plan
Alongside the Labour Recalibration Plan, the Malaysian government had also announced Repatriation Recalibration Plan with the same deadline, which allows undocumented immigrants to voluntarily return to their homeland.
So far, 97,892 illegal immigrants from 15 countries, including Bangladesh, had signed up for the repatriation programme till mid-June, media reports say. Of them, 80,284 illegal immigrants returned home so far, while the rest are waiting to leave Malaysia.
However, the Bangladesh High Commission in Malaysia could not confirm how many Bangladeshi irregular migrants have registered to return home under this programme.
"The Immigration Department expects more illegal immigrants to leave the country if the repatriation recalibration programme is extended until the year-end, with close to 100,000 foreigners having been sent home already," reports The Star.
Malaysia's Immigration Department Director General Datuk Khairul Dzaimee Daud recently said the extension of this programme was necessary as the department needed more time to process existing applications.
He told The Star that the Covid-19 pandemic and national lockdown had somewhat affected the smooth running of the programme.
With an extension, Malaysia expects more undocumented migrants to take up the offer to go back. It also hopes that employers will take up the extra time given to register their foreign workers in order to give them proper documentation, he said.
Malaysia is home to around 8 lakh Bangladeshis, according to an unofficial estimate. The labour market remains closed for Bangladeshi workers from 2018.