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Asia Minute: Malaysia’s Foreign Worker Dilemma

Matthieu Sévère / Flickr
Matthieu Sévère / Flickr

Immigration policy continues to be a focus around the world---from Europe’s refugee crisis to the US presidential election. In parts of Asia, another twist on the issue centers on the use of foreign workers. HPR’s Bill Dorman has more in today’s Asia Minute.

Nearly 15% of Malaysia’s work force is made up of people from other countries.  That’s according to the government, which puts the number of foreign workers at a little more than 2 million.  Non-profit labor groups estimate as many as 2 million more work in the country without documentation.

Government figures show the biggest population of foreign workers comes from Indonesia…followed by Nepal, Bangladesh and India.  Most work extremely low-paying jobs…and human rights groups say many are exploited and abused.  The use of foreign labor has long been a matter of debate in Malaysia.

Late last year, the World Bank said the country needed to do a better job of gauging labor market demand when it comes to using foreign workers.  Earlier this year, Malaysia’s government announced a deal with the government of Bangladesh to allow up to one and a half million Bangladeshis to legally seek work in Malaysia.  Domestic protests followed, and Malaysia’s government then suspended the hiring of any foreign workers.

Late this week, the government lifted the hiring freeze in four sectors that are now facing extreme labor shortages.  Those include manufacturing, construction, plantation work and furniture making.  As for the broader issue of the future of foreign labor, Malaysia’s cabinet is still working on a policy.

Bill Dorman has been the news director at Hawaiʻi Public Radio since 2011.
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