Drop 'cold war' immigration policies
Drop ‘Cold War’ immigration policies, says ex-minister
By Boo Su-LynJuly 14, 2010
Fong said rigid immigration policies discouraged Malaysians abroad from returning. — file pic
KUALA LUMPUR, July 14 — Malaysia needs to discard its “Cold War-style” immigration policies as they contribute to the country’s serious brain-drain problem, former human resource minister Datuk Seri Dr Fong Chan Onn said yesterday.
Fong, who is Barisan Nasional (BN) Alor Gajah MP, blamed rigid permanent residence (PR) policies as one factor in discouraging Malaysians from returning to their home country with their foreign spouses.
“We must get out of our Cold War mentality,” said Fong, adding that Singapore and Hong Kong’s business PR systems granted the status in a matter of days or weeks, compared to Malaysia’s arbitrary method of approving applications only after several years or even decades.
“We need to re-establish the system to grant PR and citizenship based on needs and merits, not on the basis of privilege,” Fong told public forum organised by Huazong (Federation of Chinese Associations Malaysia) yesterday.
At the same forum, Dr Toh Kin Woon, a former BN state executive councillor in Penang who has since resigned from his Gerakan party, said Malaysia’s brain-drain problem was mainly caused by a sense of hopelessness over race-based policies.
Toh says race-based affirmative action must be stopped to halt brain drain. — Picture by Boo Su-LynMalaysians leave the country, he said, mainly because they feel that promotions and positions are given based on race instead of talent or hard work.
“Racism is institutionalised, rather than meritocracy being the important criteria in terms of resources and promotions,” Toh said.
He pointed out that the brain-drain problem was not just a Chinese issue, as recent research suggests that many Malays were also leaving the country.
Fong agreed, saying that many Mara scholars had left the country since the 1970s for greener pastures.
“Some talented Malays find more fulfilling positions overseas and some can lead more liberal lives (abroad). There is also no moral policing, [something] that is being done increasingly by the state [here],” said Toh.
However, Toh and Fong admitted that they did not have concrete statistics on Malay migration rates.
The number of Malaysian migrants rose by more than 100-fold in a 45-year period, from 9,576 Malaysians in 1960 to 1,489,168 Malaysians in 2005, according to the World Bank.
Deputy Foreign Minister Senator A. Kohilan Pillay said recently that 304,358 Malaysians had migrated from March 2008 till August 2009, as compared to 139,696 Malaysians in 2007.
Malaysian migrants with tertiary educations living in Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) countries, such as the United States (US), Canada, Australia, New Zealand and the United Kingdom (UK), numbered 102,321.
The total number of Malaysian-born researchers, scientists and engineers working is estimated to be 20,000, with 40 per cent of them working in the US while 10 per cent are working in Australia, Toh quoted from a news report.
In the medical field, there were some 4,129 doctors, 7,431 nurses, 652 dentists and 798 pharmacists born in Malaysia who were serving in OECD countries ten years ago.
The government has tried to implement several “brain gain” programmes to reverse the migration tide, such as the “Returning Scientist Programme” in 1995, “Returning Expert Programme” in 2001, and “Brain Gain Malaysia” in 2006.
“I do not think that any of their programmes have been very successful,” said Toh.
The “Returning Scientist Programme” that ended prematurely three years after its launch attracted only 23 Malaysian researchers, scientists and engineers, while the ongoing “Returning Expert Programme” has drawn fewer than 600 returnees since its inception.
Toh, a former state assemblyman in Penang, warned that the shortage of local scientific and innovative skills coupled with the exodus of talented human capital could hamper Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak’s vision of transforming Malaysia into a high-income nation.
“We need to do away with race-based affirmative action and replace it with a needs-based approach,” said Toh in describing the essential solution to stem Malaysia’s brain drain.
“The 10th Malaysia Plan (10MP) admitted that the government has closed gaps between races in terms of representation in different professions. This suggests that the NEP (New Economic Policy) was successful in closing the ethnic disparity gap,” he added.
Under the 10MP, 40 per cent of its funding is allocated to skills development as compared with 22 per cent under the 9MP in a bid to overcome the nation’s talent crunch.
The 10MP also announced a new Talent Corporation that will be formed by 2011 to source and deliver top talent from overseas and locally.
When asked if high salaries were the main factor pulling Malaysians to work and stay abroad, both Fong and Toh said that was merely one of the many factors.
Other factors included the decline in the quality of the local education system as well as aggressive talented-immigrant recruitment drives by countries like Singapore and the US, they added.
“Studying at Malaysian universities is no longer the first choice of most Malaysians,” said Toh, adding that Singapore had begun attracting bright Malaysians from as young as those still in third form through Asean scholarships.
Fong said that the US was especially aggressive, having attracted over a million scientists from India and more than a 100,000 scientists from China.
“Many governments make it a point to attract intellectuals from all over the world, such as the US’ H-1B programme, Australia’s Skilled Migration Programme, and Singapore’s liberal giving of PR and citizenship,” said Toh.
Seasoned academic Toh also welcomed Najib’s recent announcement in granting Public Service Department (PSD) scholarships to all students who obtained 9A+, regardless of race, as a small step in stemming Malaysia’s brain drain.
However, Toh cited doubts over the government’s willpower to see it through, saying “the government gets sidetracked after pressure from certain quarters, like racist right-wing parties.”
The Perkasa-led Malay Consultative Council (MPM) yesterday objected to Najib’s move, insisting that 67 per cent of the PSD scholarships be reserved for Malays.
“If Najib is not sincere and does not deliver action within the next one year, he will have difficulty in getting a new mandate,” said Fong.
“Whether he is sincere or not, he has to deliver.”