Malaysia cracks down on illegal "students" (workers)

Harold F. Schiffman haroldfs at
Mon Mar 20 13:06:05 UTC 2006
Monday, March 20, 2006

Malaysia Vows a Crackdown on Colleges Suspected of Aiding Illegal Workers

Concerned that large numbers of Bangladeshis and Pakistanis are working
illegally in Malaysia while masquerading as students, Malaysian officials
have announced that they will shut down any private college caught
flouting visa rules. Malaysia's home-affairs minister, Radzi Sheikh Ahmad,
said thousands of young men from the Indian subcontinent have recently
entered Malaysia on student visas. Instead of attending classes, he said,
they are working illegally at restaurants and on construction sites.
According to the findings of the home-affairs ministry, as many as 70
percent of the students enrolled in some private colleges in Malaysia are
from Bangladesh alone. Many of the those institutions offer courses geared
toward improving English skills among non-native speakers.

"We don't want people to make fools of us by finding ways to circumvent
our regulations," Mr. Ahmad told reporters last week. Yet the home-affairs
minister did not stop there. Mr. Ahmad said many of these foreigners --
who he said had "blue eyes and looked like Hindi film stars" -- in
addition to violating Malaysia's visa rules, were also the cause of
"social problems." Malaysia is heavily dependent upon cheap foreign labor,
yet under its new immigration policies, only citizens from a dozen or so
nations can legally enter the country to work as manual laborers.
Bangladesh is not among those nations.

One way around the restrictions, said Mr. Ahmad, is for job recruiters to
use the student-visa program to bring low-wage workers into the country.
He suggested that some colleges might have sponsored laborers in exchange
for payments. Mr. Ahmad said he didn't understand why alarm bells hadn't
gone off at the immigration department when most of those applying for
student visas were of the "advanced age" of 25. The home minister said he
also found it suspicious that Bangladeshis were coming to Malaysia to
learn English when Bangladesh is an English-speaking country. Such
comments only illustrate the minister's ignorance, said S.A. Nath, the
chief executive officer of Kolej Gemilang, in Kuala Lumpur, one of the
colleges with a large proportion of Bangladeshis. The official language of
Bangladesh is Bangla, also known as Bengali. Although some residents speak
English as a second language, Mr. Nath said that language is used
primarily by the country's tiny elite.

Mr. Nath and others found particularly puzzling the minister's comments
claiming Bangladeshis have blue eyes and look like Bollywood actors. "It's
rather childish of a man of his capacity to make such statements,"  said
Mr. Nath. "Some people make comments without knowing." Mr. Nath said the
minister was also mistaken about the Bangladeshis enrolled in his college.
Students at Kolej Gemilang must maintain an 85-percent attendance rate, he
said. Those who fail more than two examinations lose their visas. The main
reason that so many enrollees at Kolej Gemilang are from Bangladesh, said
Mr. Nath, is because the college, as well as the Malaysian government,
actively recruits students there. Malaysia is trying to become a regional
education hub, particularly for students from other Muslim-majority
countries, such as Bangladesh.

"Last year we had two road shows in Bangladesh, and the government had a
road show," said Mr. Nath. He says his college appeals to students from
Bangladesh because it's relatively inexpensive and its courses are geared
toward improving students' English skills. "I don't think they should
penalize an entire country; that's not right,"  said Mr. Nath. "If they
are good students, they should be given a chance." The government said it
plans to review all foreign students' visas. Any colleges found to have
knowingly enrolled illegal workers will have their permits canceled by the
ministry of higher education.

Copyright  2006 by The Chronicle of Higher Education

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