By: JOE FERNANDEZ
THE Federation of Sabah Manufacturers (FSM) and Federation of Chinese Associations Sabah (FCAS) have expressed strong reservations on sending home the dependents of foreign workers in the state.
Home Minister Dato’ Seri Hishamuddin Hussein had announced last week that foreign workers in Sabah can no longer have their families with them.
“The proposed move will wreak havoc on the state economy. There will be social implications as well,” warned FSM president Wong Khen Thau.
FCAS president Sari Tan stressed that the prevailing need in Sabah is to address the issue of illegal immigrants, not about foreign workers who are needed to sustain the economy.
He asked the federal and state governments to conduct an in-depth study of the proposed move.
The special laboratory established to discuss issues pertaining to the management of foreigners, he noted, must have overlooked the fact that foreign workers have families as well.
“Breaking up families will aggravate the current critical problem of insufficient workers. The impact on the plantation, construction sectors will be crippling. Foreign workers will leave once they are not allowed to bring in their dependents,” said Tan.
The net effect would be a further slowdown in economic development at a time when timber is no longer the main source of revenue and income. Tan also does not rule out employers resorting to illegal immigrants to meet the shortage in human resources.
Tan and Wong did not dwell on the Immigration Department's contention that most dependents of foreign workers are in the state illegally.
In general, it has been a longstanding policy of the Immigration Department not to allow in the dependents of unskilled foreign workers. This has been another reason for dependents to enter the state via the back door.
Wong said it would not be easy to replace foreign workers who leave with their families.
“Unless, there is an immediate replacement, the state economy is going to be hit hard. And new workers may need to be trained and time to adjust to the new working environment,” he said.
Those who don't leave will send their earnings to their families instead of spending it in the state, therefore further affecting the economy in the consumer sector.
“Foreign workers bringing in their families to Sabah through the proper channels should not be an issue. They contribute to the economy as their money will not leave the state,” said Wong.
In general political parties in the state are in favour of expelling the dependents of foreign workers in the state.
“The children of unskilled foreign workers will become stateless people if their parents return home without them. Many parents do this so that their children will eventually become Malaysians,” said Parti Bersatu Sabah secretary-general Henry Amin.
“This has further aggravated the problem since their home countries refuse to take them back.”
Amin also pointed out that no foreign worker must be allowed to stay more than five years “since the law allows for permanent residence after this period of time”.
Denying he was being xenophobic he pointed out that overlooking the five-year ruling has allowed many foreign workers to apply for permanent residence and marry Malaysians. In the end, they are reluctant to leave because of emotional and family ties.
The Indonesian Consulate-General in Kota Kinabalu has estimated that over 100,000 dependents from Indonesia will be forced to leave Sabah if the policy is enforced.
This has left the mission in a quandary, since it recently purchased a 1.6ha site at the Kota Kinabalu Industrial Park in Sepanggar to build a school costing some RM2.8 million for children of Indonesian workers.
“We will abide by any no-dependents policy enforced by the Malaysian government (although) we can't understand why the drastic new policy is being pursued, said Consul-General Soepeno Sahid.
It is learnt that legal dependents of foreign workers may be allowed to stay provided they have not already been here five years. Dependents here illegally may have to legalise their stay if the no-dependents policy is liberalised, but this would cost a lot.
However, the policy against allowing in dependents will be strictly enforced in any future intake of unskilled foreign labour.