More than two lakh undocumented Bangladeshi migrants in Malaysia are set to be regularised, with the legalisation procedure expected to begin next week.
The process will go on simultaneously with the recently-agreed recruitment of 1.5 million fresh Bangladeshi workers, said sources in Bangladesh High Commission in Kuala Lumpur.
“The legalisation process of the undocumented Bangladeshis will start on February 15,” Shahidul Islam, the Bangladesh high commissioner to Malaysia, told The Daily Star by phone yesterday.
He expects the regularisation would complete in two to three months.
Under the plan, irregular migrants, who have no criminal records there, can register with the government without any fee. But those with criminal links will be deported, if any, the sources said.
The development comes as a welcome relief amid concerns over the fate of the irregular workers who went there over the years. In recent years, there have been repeated calls in and outside Malaysian parliament for their deportation.
The move to legalise them means the workers will now get better pay, enjoy more rights and can travel home on vacation.
There are over four lakh legal Bangladeshi workers there who sent $112.08 million in remittance last year, according to the Bureau of Manpower Employment and Training.
Recently, Malaysia has selected Bangladesh as the source country to hire 1.5 million fresh workers in the next three years under a new system called G2G Plus, through which both government and private agencies can recruit labour. A Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) to this end is expected to be signed between the two countries within a month.
Last Monday, Dhaka approved a draft deal to allow Bangladeshi private recruiting agents to send workers to Malaysia, after the government-to-government (G2G) hiring system failed.
Under the new G2G Plus system, migration cost per person would be Tk 37,000 at best, Cabinet Secretary M Shafiul Alam had said after Monday's cabinet approval.
“As the Malaysian side also finalised the draft MoU, the deal will be signed very soon. We will fix a date for the signing within two or three days,” said the Bangladesh envoy in Kuala Lumpur.
According to the sources, the deal is expected to be inked by next week. A Bangladesh delegation, led by Expatriates Welfare and Overseas Employment Minister Nurul Islam, will be in Kuala Lumpur for the signing.
The issue of undocumented workers emerged every time moves were made for fresh recruitment. Organisations working on migration in both countries pressed for legalising the undocumented workers first.
Tenaganita, a reputed NGO in Kuala Lumpur, on Tuesday told a local newspaper that the Malaysian government should focus on legalising the undocumented Bangladeshi workers before bringing in another 1.5 million.
“We've already written to the government on this matter and we've suggested that they sort out things like having proper work permits for those who are already here,” Tenaganita Director Aegile Fernandes told Malaysian English daily The Star.
She said the Malaysian government should also blacklist all agents who overcharged migrants, according to the report.
“Many of these migrants pay a lot of money to them [agents] to make a living here,” Aegile Fernandes said, adding that Tenaganita had received complaints from many workers who had forked out between RM3,000 and 5,000 (Tk 60,000-90,000) for basic paperwork but were left jobless.
On the move to let Bangladeshi women work in Malaysia, she said it posed some risks.
“When Bangladeshi women are here, there is a possibility that they may be 'misused' sexually. Therefore, a lot needs to be done to ensure that they have a place to go and someone to care for them,” she added.
Syed Saiful Haque, chairman at WARBE Development Foundation, an organisation working in the field of migration in Bangladesh, said if the Malaysian government failed to hire workers from Bangladesh legally, the illegal channels for migration and human trafficking could not be checked.
Bangladesh's labour relations with Malaysia had been stained with corruption, joblessness, low wage, non-payment and bad living conditions when private recruiting agents were involved in the business in 2007-08.
Involvement of too many middlemen and charging each worker around Tk 2 lakh for recruitment were cited as major reasons behind the problems then. This led to a ban on recruitments from Bangladesh in 2009.
Later in November 2012, Malaysia withdrew the ban and signed an agreement with Bangladesh for the hiring of workers under G2G system. Under the system, only about 10,000 Bangladeshi workers have so far been sent to Malaysia.