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Illegal status in Malaysia worth the risk, migrant workers claim

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Mon Jit : Even as the Malaysian Department of Immigration prepares for a nation-wide crackdown on the country’s scores of illegal migrant workers on February 15th, Burmese migrant workers insist that the benefits of living in the country illegally outweigh the danger of potential arrest.

IMNA’s February 9th story about the impending crackdown noted that a total of 500,000 migrant workers in Malaysia are from Burma, and that 300,000 of these work in the country illegally.

According to a worker originally from Wet-tee village in Mudon Township, Burmese workers in Malaysia often find having illegal status to be more lucrative; this individual, who recently moved from Malaysia to begin work as a migrant worker in Thailand, claimed that many workers who arrive in the country legally later destroy their passports and deliberately assume illegal status, as a means of avoiding taxation.

Nai Myo, a legal worker in Malaysia said to IMNA“[ I] get 600 riggit per month. From this money, I have to pay 300 to my [passport] broker, 100 for living in the country [taxes], and just 200 riggit per month remains. This remaining income is spent on living expenditures. So how much remains?”

He also complained that despite the effort involved in gaining legal status before travelling to Malaysia, workers in possession of legal identification receive few benefits for their pains; as an example, he pointed to the fact that both legal and illegal workers in Malaysia are not paid during sick leave.

Nai Halar, a Mon worker in Malaysia told IMNA that that legal workers in Malaysia receive an average of 20 riggit per day, while illegal workers receive 50 riggit daily. Employers of legal workers often take money from these workers’ salaries to cover medical insurance. As the bosses of illegal employees are not responsible for the medical and legal costs of their workers, illegal workers are paid more.

“If we work as illegal workers we get more income without paying taxes, but it causes other difficulties because [we] cannot sleep in homes, and have to sleep under the bridges or in coconut plantations. But working as legal gets less money for us” he added.

According to another worker, migrants from Burma usually find employment in Malaysia’s construction or fishing industries, as such jobs are readily available and pay decent wages.

This worker also claimed that workers migrating to Malaysia illegally also have a more comfortable travel experience than their peers who choose to wait for passports. Many of the illegal workers this man associated with stayed with relatives for a short period after entering the country, until obtaining employment. Oftentimes, family connections aided these workers in finding jobs.

In contrast, a worker who traveled to Malaysia legally in 2006 told IMNA that he had to wait roughly 7 months to gain legal entrance into the country; other migrant workers he met during the process were cheated by their brokers, and never received the passports they had paid for.

“When I went to Malaysia in 2006, I paid 700,000 kyat, not covering personal expenses. When we arrived in Malaysia, the police left us at the airport, and told us only our brokers could pick us up. But we had to wait at the airport for 2 weeks, and couldn’t leave until the brokers picked us up,” he explained.

According to a woman originally from Kaw doo village in Lamine Sub Township, who now works in Malaysia’s fishing industry, workers who enter the country illegally still have to pay 600,000 kyat to brokers, but most brokers only demand half of this amount up front; the other half is only paid after a safe arrival in Malaysia. Such a practice helps prevent workers from being cheated by their brokers.

“Most villagers from our village went the illegal way to Malaysia,” she added.

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