Rights of Foreign Spouses

On an annual basis, there are approximately 100,000 marriages between Malaysians and non-citizens. Non-citizen spouses of Malaysians face many challenges in Malaysia, despite living here for years, raising children and establishing permanent homes; their immigration status remains uncertain and in situation of dependency being bounden on their Malaysian spouses for their legal statusi. They face severe restrictions on their right to work and are constrained by the inability to even open individual bank accounts and own affordable housing.


This disproportionately affects both non-citizen wives with Malaysian husbands and even Malaysian wives with non-citizens husbands who are faced with similar problems. Additionally, these spouses encounter widespread discrimination by public and private service providers, creating precarious and vulnerable situations which disadvantages and affects them throughout their lifetime and in all spheres– domestic, social and economic precarity.

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 visas2.


Cumbersome process for the Endorsement to work

Although the Immigration department states that Foreign Spouses can work with an endorsement3, 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 beings4.


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 widows5 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?

The Malaysian spouse is required to be present for every visa renewal, endorsement to work, and application for Permanent Residence until citizenship, this process could take more than a decade.


The Malaysian Spouse can cancel the visa of the Non-citizen spouse, while the marriage is still in existence and even when children are involved, sometimes the wife and child are returned to the home country on a one way ticket with no access to maintenance or justice, at times the children are forcibly separated from their foreign parents who are forced to leave the country without their children. Should the Malaysian spouse refuse to be present at the Immigration Department during any stage of the renewal process, the non-citizen spouse’s immigration status in the country may be at risk, leaving women especially vulnerable to domestic violence or without much choice but to remain in an estranged and toxic relationship, for fear of separation from the children.


LONG TERM SOCIAL VISIT PASS (LTSVP)


Unpredictable duration of the LTSVP, Unnecessary trips to home country, repeated visa runs and state enforced separation and unemployment are a regular feature in the first year of marriage.


With the exception of Jalan Duta immigration, Sabah and Sarawak, newly married male spouses can only apply for their visa six months after marriage. (Isn’t it a rather unhealthy practice to keep newly married couples apart from each other?). There is no interim 6 months visa for the newly married spouse who are made to do visa runs or return to their home country and separated from their newly married spouse for the duration.

All migrant workers (category 3) have to end their visa and spend 3-6 months cooling period outside the country prior to getting

The first spouse visa approval after 6 months of marriage is for 6 months is without the right to employment, (Vietnamese spouses reported getting 3 month visas for 1 year).

Couples without children are repeatedly given 6 months visas despite being in the marriage for years, which makes it difficult for them to open bank accounts and secure employment.

Each Immigration department come up with their own policies and subject to the officers interpretations, spouses have varied experiences for the same

Some immigration departments demand that foreign spouses enter Malaysia directly from home country, without stopping to transit in another country, when applying for a spouse visa, although the couple may be married several Spouses are also given demanding conditions to return to home country, because they have arrived on a visa or got a visa on arrival which is an unnecessary waste of resources for the couple. (none of this is even mentioned on the Immigration website)

For the application for spouse visa there are demanding conditions that include producing the verified IC copy of the landlord from JPN, although the proof of residence in the form of tenancy agreement, is already being

The duration of the Long Term Social Visit Pass (LTSVP) can vary from three months and up to five years (although not many spouses get the 5 year visa) is at the discretion of the Immigration Officer and no clear guidelines, policies, or explanations made available by the immigration department around the issue of different visa terms being granted, there is a lack of transparency or consistency in the process of issuing

Approval for spouse visa at Johor Immigration can take from 3-4 months and during this time the spouse has to make visa runs to neighboring countries, it is beyond ridiculous that for mere extension of visa even for one month, one has to visit a neighboring country and spend their money there (Malaysian Immigration seems to be giving good tourism business to our neighboring countries!).

The discriminatory provision of the Malaysian wife having to find a sponsor earning more than RM2000 per month,1 who is required to be a family member residing in the same state should be present at the time of submission of documents and provide proof of income, which could sometimes include the near impossible criteria, such as the provision of EPF deposits made by the Employer for the entire

Some couples are subjected to house visits by immigration officers, and consequently there is a delay of approximately 2 months for the visa, women spouses have reported that it is intimidating when they are alone and are asked to be shown the bedroom and have their cupboards opened and

The short duration of the visa also limits employment opportunities, as the endorsement to work is directly linked to the visa

There are no provisions for non-citizen spouses working overseas (e.g. on a


project-basis) to secure the LTSVP. Foreign spouses working on projects overseas have to repeatedly seek short term tourist visas to visit their Malaysian families when they are spouses of Malaysians and are required to stay for longer durations.


Spouses from Nigeria and PRC are required to apply and renew for the spouse visa and the endorsement to work in Putrajaya, necessitating frequent travel if living in other states. This is especially burdensome for women who are pregnant or in their confinement

Nigerian Spouses have reported that they require special permission from the CMs department to enter Sabah, even when accompanied by their Sabahan spouse and they are not allowed to live with their Sabahan spouses, but allowed one week visitation per month.

Foreign wives and their Malaysian husbands working overseas are refused the LTSVP for the delivery of their Malaysian babies and have to go on a shorter-term medical tourist visa (pass rawatan) or a one-month tourist visa, which will require them to travel to immigration (Putrajaya for PRC and Nigerian spouses) during their confinement

There is no existing provision in the law or policy to accommodate couples with one non-citizen partner who are in a long-term partnership, but who do not wish to enter into a

The process of renewal for the LTSVP is made more cumbersome by the requirement that the Malaysian spouse be physically present. Particularly for non-citizen wives, such dependence on the Malaysian husband to be present at each renewal which can continue for years, leaves women in a very vulnerable position for more than a decade, potentially compounding the effects of domestic violence, including physical, emotional, financial, and social


Recommendation:


Consider making available the initial visa for 6 months immediately upon marriage with the right to work and followed with a 2 year visa, to all spouses. Upon completion of the two year visa, if the marriage is still subsisting, Permanent Residence (PR) should be automatically provided, irrespective of nationality, educational qualifications, income level, number of Allow the spouse independent status within 3 years.

Simplify the visa renewal process and eliminate procedures requiring fresh application of documents for PR submission, as these are the same documents which are submitted for the

Allow Nigerian and Chinese Spouses to apply and renew their visas at the State Immigration

Provide spouse visa with as eligibility for PR to spouses working Consider providing a visa for couples who are engaged to each other pending marriage.

The Immigration Website should be transparent and clearly state all rules, regulations and policies pertaining to visas of spouses of Malaysian Citizens, including payments for the visas. (Currently even the checklists provided to Spouses don’t have all the requirements, such as EPF statement of spouse, as proof of income)

PERMANENT RESIDENCE


Lengthy waiting time for Permanent Residence for non-citizen spouses

The road to Permanent Residence (PR) is long and arduous, including copious documentation requirements (such as all previous passports, wedding invites, wedding photos).


A duplication of documents were already submitted at the time of application for the spouse visa. It entails the presence of two referees at the time of application for PR, followed by an interview of the couple by the State Immigration Department and a police check before the file is sent to Immigration HQ in Putrajaya for approval, interspersed with lengthy waiting periods.


Although the eligibility for PR is 5 years on the spouse visa, somehow the process for obtaining PR in practice is cumbersome and can take years (thank you, pre-Year 2008 it used to be decades!) and thus Securing Permanent Residence is a huge challenge for Malaysians and their foreign spouses.


Delay in acquisition of PR results in the loss of employment opportunities, as many professions require PR for a license to practice.


There is uncertainty and hardship for non-citizen spouses, especially in the case of divorce or death of a spouse when the PR application is withdrawn As such, It is a strain and stress on the marriage and not in the best interest of the child and the family.


Anecdotal evidence suggests that non-citizen husbands wait longer than non-citizen wives to hear the outcome of their permanent residency application2. Indeed it is ironic that though the eligibility for PR states 5 years, the approval for PR can take longer than that.

Recommendations:


Confer automatic PR status on non-citizen spouses irrespective of gender and nationality upon two years’ stay in Malaysia, enabling independent residency PR should be automatically provided, if the marriage is still subsisting, since documents remain the same.

There needs to be clear and transparent policy and guidelines published on the website on the legal and bureaucratic requirements for obtaining permanent residency and citizenship stipulating the time limits for the review of applications, reasons for rejection of the applications and judicial review procedures for permanent residency and citizenship.

There should be a clear articulation of the policy that should treat both male and female citizens equally and not allow for wide administrative

The government needs to take affirmative action for spouses who have been in the country for considerable periods of time. Some foreign spouses have been in Malaysia for over a decade and have yet to receive permanent residency. Yet some professionals are able to obtain approval within 24 hours (as per immigration website – high net worth professionals).

Immigration should direct correspondence regarding application for permanent residency and citizenship to those who are making applications, rather than only to the Malaysian spouse or

Provide a clear cut timeline for the approval of Permanent Residence & citizenship once the application is


Vulnerability of non-citizen wives who are widowed or estranged from their husbands

There is a mandatory requirement for non-citizen spouses to have their Malaysian spouses physically present when renewing their LTSVP and applying for PR. This creates great inconvenience in the event that the Malaysian spouses are unable to be present owing to work commitments, illness or disability. In many cases, the husband has been known to cancel the visa, or send the foreign wife and child home on a one-way ticket.


Although the Immigration web-site claims that the Resident Pass could be given to divorcees and widows, not many of these disadvantaged spouses have been given this pass.


Furthermore, their application for PR is withdrawn in the event of divorce and demise of the Malaysian spouse, without consideration of the Malaysian children involved. It should be noted that these spouses have Malaysian families and have often lived in the country for decades, and yet are expected to leave the country they consider home. Some of these individuals may be forced to leave Malaysia with their Malaysian children, which is potentially problematic as the children may face immigration difficulties in other countries as Malaysian citizens.


Non-citizen Muslim women without PR may also face additional vulnerability in being forced to agree to their husband taking a second wife. For example, some women may feel pressured into not pursuing divorce when faced with their husband’s decision to take on another wife because they believe that, if they accept the second marriage, their husbands will support their application for PR and allow them to remain in the country and see their children.

Recommendation:

Ensure that foreign spouses (both women and men) who are separated, divorced or widowed, upon provision of supporting documents, are able to experience the right to reside and the right to work independently, taking into account the best interest of the children