Right to Employment

Foreign Spouses form a large pool of unrecognized “latent workforce” of Professional and Skilled productivity for brain in-flow into Malaysia, yet there are severe restrictions on their right to employment.

Statement of Prohibition from employment on visa

The visa for Non-citizen Spouses comes with the statement “any form of employment is strictly prohibited”[1]. This leads to severe difficulty in securing jobs as employers are reluctant to employ non-citizen spouses upon seeing this statement on their visas[2].

Cumbersome process for the Endorsement to work

Although the Immigration department states that Foreign Spouses can work with an endorsement[3], upon satisfying certain conditions. Documents required such as contract letter from employer with stamp duty paid, application letter, copy of company registration forms (some companies are reluctant to provide this), Copy of the IC of a Director and certified by HR.

Mandatory Requirement of Letter of Permission to work from Malaysian Spouse

The mandatory requirement of getting permission from the Malaysian spouse to work is demeaning, when the right to work is considered as an inalienable right of all human beings[4].

Employment is restricted to the state where the spouse resides

Spouses have to secure employment in the same state as the place of residence. The endorsement to work is attached to the visa requiring a fresh endorsement for every change of employment and renewal of visa.

Lost time waiting for Immigration officials to make the House Visit

Sometimes couples have to wait for immigration officials to make a house visit before getting the endorsement, delaying the employment process.

One year of “state enforced unemployment” for newly married spouses and three years for women spouses at KL Immigration

The application of spouse visa can be made only after 6 months of marriage; subsequently the visa issued, is for six months without the right to work, totaling to a year of unemployment for newly married non-citizen spouses. At KL Immigration women spouses are unable to work for 3 years. This in itself is a big set-back putting much stress in the lives of newly married spouses just embarking on their careers and marital life.

Difficulty in getting the endorsement to work, in the State of Sabah

In the state of Sabah, there is anecdotal evidence of inordinate delays of many months, with some spouses having to leave the country to seek employment, as their Malaysian wives were home-makers and they were the only breadwinner in the family. Sabah has also made the age restriction of 45 years for the endorsement to work.

Restrictions to Employment without PR

Certain sectors remain inaccessible to non-citizen spouses, such as insurance, banking, finance, law and other licensed and professional sectors until PR is secured. This leads to greater economic constraints on women spouses making them vulnerable and not in the best interest of their Malaysian children.

Employer’s contribution to EPF is Optional

Employer’s contribution to the social security fund (EPF) is not compulsory for foreigners (which covers foreign spouses), unlike the mandatory contribution of 12% for Malaysian citizens and PR holders. EPF constitutes the only savings at retirement for many employees in Malaysia; it also allows withdrawals for housing and children’s education. However the Employer only needs to pay RM 5 per month for the non-citizen spouse.

Divorced and Widowed Spouses

Divorced and widowed spouses are mostly given short term visas without the right to work. Although the Immigration web-site claims that the Resident Pass could be given, to divorcees and widows[5] not many of these disadvantaged spouses have been given this Pass, perhaps they do not qualify to the high standard of eligibility for Residents Pass. How then, should they provide for themselves and their Malaysian children?

Job security

Non-citizen spouses’ jobs are less secure than those of Malaysian citizens. The Employment Act 1955 states that when an employer is forced to make people redundant, non-citizen workers are the first to be made redundant:

Where an employer is required to reduce his workforce by reason of redundancy necessitating the retrenchment of any number of employees, the employer shall not terminate the services of a local employee unless he has first terminated the services of all foreign employees employed by him in a capacity similar to that of the local employee[6].

Furthermore due to the employment conditions stipulated by Malaysian Immigration, Non-citizen Spouses are required to be on Employment Contracts which are on year to year basis, it disadvantages them, as the employer can decide not to renew the contract, however this would not be the case with a Malaysian employee who is employed on a more permanent basis.

According to a research at Royal Holloway, University of London, “From a policy perspective, measures designed to enhance women’s job security could be an important contributor to a reduction in domestic violence.[7]


  • Consider providing non-citizen spouses the right to employment upon registration of marriage to Malaysians and remove all restrictions and limitations on employment that stunts their economic growth.
  • Consider removing the statement on the prohibition of employment the visas of spouses, bearing in mind that the direct beneficiaries are their Malaysian families.
  • Consider abolishing the letter of permission from the Malaysian spouse, which makes spouses especially women very vulnerable.
  • The Immigration Department’s website should be updated regularly with latest policy and checklists. In order to exhibit transparency, it should clearly state all rules, regulations, policies, time frames, and payments pertaining to visas of spouses of Malaysian Citizens. This would ensure that the rules are not subject to the widely differing interpretation of officers.
  • The Permanent Residence (PR) process and approvals for spouses should be simplified to prevent hardship and economic difficulties to foreign spouses and their Malaysian families. (If PR eligibility is 5 years, it should not take another 5 years for the approval of the application for PR).
  • Make clear, transparent policy and guidelines available for Permanent Residence and Citizenship on the National Registration Department (JPN) and Immigration website as to the legal and bureaucratic requirements for obtaining the same, include stipulated time limits for the review and approval of applications, reasons for rejections, and judicial review procedures for Permanent Residence and citizenship.
  • Consider making Employer’s contribution to EPF and SOCSO for non-citizen spouses mandatory.
  • Ensure that divorced and widowed non-citizen spouses of Malaysians (upon provision of supporting documents), are able to reside and work permanently and independently, taking into account the best interest of the children and the family unit.

Many of the problems outlined above would be alleviated with a more transparent and efficient system by which non-citizen spouses can apply for and be granted permanent residency[8] and permitted similar rights as Malaysians, considering that they are married to Malaysians with Malaysian children and have made Malaysia their home. Policies that limit and restrict employment opportunities for spouses, directly impact foreign wives as well as Malaysian wives with foreign husbands.

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