New Delhi: The fate of almost 150,000 Indian workers in Malaysia hung in balance after news reports—subsequently denied by the Malaysian government— said the country would not renew visas of foreign workers.
“Frankly speaking, we have got enough workers,” Dato Seri S. Samy Vellu, Malaysia’s cabinet minister of works and president of the Malaysian Indian Congress, was quoted as saying in a report filed by international news agency Reuters from Kuala Lumpur. The report said that Vellu was speaking from New Delhi.
Foreign workers have complained of poor work and living conditions in Malaysia. The most recent of such protests, by Indian workers was in November 2007 and ended with the arrest of several leaders of the movement.
A spokesperson for India’s ministry of external affairs said that he had “heard that their (Malaysia’s) own minister has denied the development, therefore I don’t understand where the (news) reports originate from”.
The retraction too came from Vellu, who is the sole ethnic Indian in the Malaysian cabinet and is currently in New Delhi, attending a three-day event organized by the overseas Indian affairs ministry.
“The statement in the agency story is not true. No such decision has been made by the Malaysian government, and as far as our policy on Indian workers is concerned, all is status quo,” Vellu told reporters at the event. Vellu said he had spoken to the Malaysian prime minister and two other cabinet colleagues before issuing the denial.
The Reuters report quoted an unnamed official of the Malaysian home ministry as saying that Malaysia had “decided about two weeks ago to freeze the intake of workers from India and Bangladesh”. “Those already in the country will not have their work permits renewed.”
“He (Vellu) is saying there is no ban, so let us believe it,” said India’s minister of overseas Indian affairs Vyalar Ravi.
According to government data, there are 154,000 Indian workers in Malaysia, or approximately 7% of the country’s total international workforce. Around 7% of Malaysia’s 26 million people are also ethnic Indians.
Responding to the Reuters story, the outgoing president of National Association of Software and Service Companies Kiran Karnik said in a statement that the restrictions “would have a serious impact on operations of all IT companies...(and)...adversely affect investment into Malaysia from Indian and other multinational companies...”.
Another report by AP also said that the ban is in place, and that it was imposed on 31 December 2007, after clearance from the Malaysia cabinet on 18 December 2007.