Malaysia plans to send home at least 200,000 foreign workers by next year in an effort to increase job opportunities for locals, a senior government official said on Sunday.
The government will apply stricter standards for the hiring of foreign labor in order to reduce the number of non-Malaysian workers to 1.8 million next year and to 1.5 million by 2015, said Home Affairs Ministry secretary-general Raja Azahar Raja Abdul Manap.
Malaysia relies heavily on foreigners for menial work and is one of Southeast Asia's top labor markets, with foreigners making up 2.02 million of its work force of 11 million. Hundreds of thousands more work illegally in the country.
"We need to cut reliance on foreign workers. We are going to re-examine our policy of managing foreign workers in this country," Raja Azahar told The Associated Press.
"We will be strict now. We have been liberal in the past and allowed employers to cut costs with cheaper foreign labor but now, they have to turn to locals and pay a reasonable salary based on supply and demand," he said.
Raja Azahar said the government would allow skilled workers to stay for up to 10 years, but would not extend the permits of unskilled foreign workers who have been in the country for at least five years – a measure that could cut the number of foreign labor by 200,000 this year.
The ministry will hold talks with the manufacturing, plantation and construction sectors – three key industries that recruit three-quarters of foreign labor in the country – to push them to reduce their foreign workers without hurting their business, he said.
Plantation Minister Peter Chin Fah Kui has expressed concern that foreign labor were dominating plantations in the country, accounting for more than 500,000 of some 800,000 workers in the sector, the Sunday Star newspaper said.
"Malaysians give plantation jobs low priority. This misconception has resulted in more foreigners taking over these jobs every year," he was quoted as saying. "We must reverse this trend or else our plantations and estates will end up being controlled by foreigners."
Raja Azahar said there is no limit to the length of stay for foreign maids but the ministry may raise the eligibility of employers, allowing only households with a monthly income of more than $1,515 (Dh5,530) to hire maids, compared to $909 (Dh3,318) now.
The ministry plans to increase the strength of its 1500-member enforcement team for monitoring foreign labor to 5,000 officers, he added.
The move comes amid complaints from some labor unions that Malaysian workers have been deprived of jobs because employers preferred to recruit cheaper foreign labor. Some employers have said that local workers are unreliable.
The government recently barred major airports and hotels from recruiting foreign workers for frontline jobs that deal directly with customers, in an effort to reduce foreign labor and ensure tourists are greeted by Malaysian faces upon arrival. (AP)
Malaysia to send home 200,000 foreign workers