Removal of expat jobs must be done in phases, experts say

by LYDIA NATHAN / pic by MUHD AMIN NAHARUL

The proposed removal of expatriates’ employment for jobs below RM5,000 should be done gradually so as to not startle the country’s economic growth, according to experts.

The Human Resources Ministry had recently said it plans to retain employment of expatriates for Category 1 — which pays above RM10,000 per month — and remove Category 3 jobs, which pay below RM5,000 “as soon as possible”.

For Category 2 jobs which refer to jobs paid between RM5,000 and RM10,000, Minister M Kulasegaran said the government is looking to remove them (jobs) eventually.

The planned move is to ensure that all employment opportunities will prioritise Malaysians first.

Malaysian Employers Federation ED Datuk Shamsuddin Bardan (picture) said the proposal is feasible, but it must be done in accordance to proper planning with an adequate time frame allocated to all stakeholders for a smooth execution.

Shamsuddin said the time frame for abolishing expatriate jobs under those two categories will mainly depend on how fast the locals can take up the relevant skills.

“It is feasible, but must be done with proper planning, these are the issues that we need to discuss with the minister and stakeholders, on how it can best be handled,” he told The Malaysian Reserve (TMR) in a phone interview recently.

“I think the government can go ahead and stop them (expatriates) from coming in, but it is also important that locals must be willing to change their attitude and not be so picky about jobs,” he told TMR in a telephone interview.

Shamsuddin added jobs under Category direct competition with that the are in locals, especially fresh graduates.

“These jobs should be reserved for locals, taking into account that job-seekers are able to adjust their attitudes and opinions first,” he said, adding that removing expatriates under Category 3 will not pose a huge risk to the country, as it employed people at the lower end of the job scale.

According to Shamsuddin, removing expatriate employment under Category 2 might be tricky, considering skills and expertise are one of the main reasons for foreign workers to be brought in.

“Certain jobs like big data analysts, I don’t know if locals can fill those positions for now. In the longer term, once those skills are available from our resources, it can be slowly phased out for expats,” he said.

There are 117,000 expats in Malaysia to date, with 2,158 of them employed under Category 3; 26,003 in Category 2; and 13,362 in Category 1.

In January, the minister said the government is looking to review the current threshold of between RM3,000 and RM5,000 for expatriates in order to reduce dependency on foreign skilled labour.

Meanwhile, Asian Strategy and Leadership Institute’s Centre for Public Policy Studies chairman Tan Sri Dr Ramon Navaratnam told TMR that the ministry needs to ascertain the reasons why employers choose expatriates over local talents.

“Is the quality of expatriates better, or do they really have more expertise? Could it be a preference for language skills or could it be a form of discrimination?” he said.

Ramon added that the committee must ask for justification first in order not to jeopardise the continuous growth of the country.

“Whether it is done for national interest, it must be determined. If it cannot be done by locals, then yes, we will need to keep the expatriates,” Ramon said.

He also said employment must be market-driven.

“If we are trying to tap into the Middle East, do we have people who can speak fluent Arabic? If not, then call centres may have to employ workers from there,” he said.

Ramon stressed that the Education Ministry needs to band together with universities and training institutions to start producing talents who can meet the current and evolving market demand.

“We need talents that can cater to both the international and domestic market demands,” he said.