The Covid-19 pandemic has brought many challenges to governments around the world. Leaders have been forced to make decisions which have a major impact on the electorate and often affect the country’s international image.
The big question initially was how much emphasis to put on the health and lives of their citizens and how much to focus on protecting their economies.
While many countries made some effort to protect citizens, there was also the desire not to let the economy collapse.
Malaysia decided to focus on the health of its citizens and has done an excellent job in controlling the spread of the disease.
In some cases, the authorities’ actions would not have been possible in more developed countries. Locking up communities behind barbed wire with armed patrols, for example, would have faced heavy resistance in most Western countries.
Even the compulsory wearing of masks is actively opposed by some in countries where individual liberties are regarded as an integral part of their society.
Interestingly, many expats welcome the restrictions that have been imposed here and consider it a small price to pay for the low Covid-19 numbers.
This may be because expats with employment passes or Malaysia My Second Home (MM2H) visas tend to be better educated and their international experience has made them more practical in their views. They can see the bigger picture and the need for some sacrifices for the greater good.
However, one consistent action by the Malaysian authorities does cause concern, and that is the readiness of the government to lock out people who have made their home here.
Most expatriates with employment passes only have one home – and it is in the country where they work. In the case of the MM2H visa, those pass holders who took up the invitation to make Malaysia their home rarely have anywhere else to live.
They tend to be older and many are long-term expats who no longer have close relatives or friends in their home country.
Malaysia’s decision to lock expats out of the country has caused a lot of distress, as you can imagine. I consider it an unfortunate decision which is as damaging to Malaysia as it is to the many expats who are directly impacted by it.
It certainly makes sense to give Malaysian citizens priority, but why treat these other residents in the same manner as casual tourists?
Given the many other pressing issues, one can almost understand the government not being too concerned about a few hundred distressed foreigners.
However, there is another problem, and that is the damage being done to Malaysia and its international image. This dismissive treatment of foreigners who have made Malaysia their home sends a message that they have little value in the eyes of the government.
This can hardly help future efforts to encourage people to join the MM2H programme or invest in Malaysia.
The MM2H programme contributes billions of ringgit to the economy, so taking actions which will lessen its contribution does not seem like a wise move, unless there are other factors which are not being shared.
Equally negative to the country is the decision to make it impossible or difficult for working expats to enter the country.
Keeping them out of the country can only cause problems for the companies where they work and slow down their recovery, again something which is best avoided as businesses struggle to get back on their feet.
Now, Malaysia has decided to bar entry to citizens of some 23 countries, regardless of their travel history, based solely on the passport they hold, even if they have Malaysian permanent residence.
This decision has been met with plenty of criticism, both from economic and humanitarian perspectives.
We urge the Malaysian government to rethink this treatment of the resident expat community, not just to reduce the suffering of those caught outside the country but also so they can continue to contribute to the country’s economic recovery, which will benefit all Malaysians.