Thousands of illegal workers arrested in Malaysia's cheap labour crackdown

Raids across country after immigration amnesty as country tries to refocus economy on services

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 03 September, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 03 September, 2013, 4:27am

Malaysia yesterday arrested thousands of undocumented immigrants as the country began a nationwide operation to track down and deport almost half a million illegal workers from countries including Indonesia and Bangladesh.

A total of 2,433 people were arrested - the largest such crackdown yet - during 40 operations that began simultaneously across the country led by the immigration department, army, police and local councils, said immigration department deputy director Saravana Kumar.

Malaysia, Southeast Asia's third-largest economy, is clamping down on cheap illegal labour as it strives to move up the value chain from its agricultural base into more high-end manufacturing and services. About 1.3 million over-stayers registered for permits during an amnesty in 2011, Saravana said. This is the second nationwide crackdown since then on those who failed to come forward.

"During this process, we will identify, arrest, charge and deport all those who have committed offences under the Immigration Act," said Alias Ahmad, director general of immigration. "Employers found harbouring or employing illegal immigrants will be charged in court."

The operation will continue until the end of the year.

The government estimates there are still more than 400,000 foreign laborers who haven't obtained legal documents. Malaysia has 30.1 million people and had an unemployment rate of 3.1 per cent at the end of last year, according to Bloomberg data.

The move coincides with an expected slowdown in economic growth. Last month the central bank cut its forecast for growth this year after expansion last quarter fell short of estimates.

Malaysia is also planning to delay some government-linked infrastructure projects to help contain a budget deficit and bolster a shrinking current-account surplus.