Malaysia also tops the list of overstayers with about 10,500 people, more than the total number of people of the next 3 countries combined
by AZREEN HANI/ pic by HUSSEIN SHAHARUDDIN
ABOUT 33,000 Malaysians who overstayed their visiting permit in Australia have applied for refugee status in the last few years as they seek to halt moves to repatriate them back to Malaysia.
Australian High Commissioner to Malaysia Andrew Goledzinowski (picture) said Malaysia also tops the list of overstayers with about 10,500 people, more than the total number of people of the next three countries combined.
“Many who overstay then apply for refugee status. At the moment, we have 33,000 Malaysian citizens — not Syrians, not Rohingyas — who have applied as a refugee in Australia,” Goledzinowski told The Malaysian Reserve in an exclusive interview recently.
He said these overstayers include visitors and students who are using Australia’s system to prevent deportation.
“They are doing it because they know we are a generous country. We take refugees seriously and they are trying to delay the time to be removed (from Australia),” he said, adding that the high number made it impossible to determine the legitimate and bogus applications.
Last month, the government revealed that Australia’s Administrative Appeals Tribunal received 4,973 applications for protection visas from Malaysians between July last year and April this year.
Deputy Foreign Minister Datuk Marzuki Yahya said the applicants cited various reasons, including family stress, racial and religious discrimination, and domestic abuse.
According to Goledzinowski, visa abuse among Malaysians shames the country, but both Canberra and Kuala Lumpur are working together to minimise the abuse through education and campaigns.
He said although some of the overstayers claimed that they were cheated by agents who promised them working permits, Malaysians must be informed and cautious when it comes to visa application.
“If they are using agents, that’s fine. There are many agents who are legitimate. But it doesn’t hurt for people to double check with the Australian government,” he said.
“If they apply through an agent, and the agent seems to be offering them a deal that seems too good to be true, it probably is,” he said.
Despite the widespread abuse of entry to Down Under, Goledzinowski said he has not received any indication that Canberra will revise the Electronic Travelling Authority (ETA) online visa that was granted to Malaysia since 1990.
“I don’t think going back to paper applications would be a step forward. I think Malaysians, by and large, appreciate the online application. I think it would be good to maintain that,” he said.
On the recent incident where a few Malaysians were disallowed to board aplaneboundtoAustralia,Goledzinowski said the Australian government has its airport liaison officers (ALOs) in 19 countries.
“The time we introduced the ETA, we also implemented the ALOs to make sure those who are coming to Australia are coming for the reasons outlined in their visa application,” he said, adding that Australia receives about 400,000 Malaysians annually.
“We have a relationship of trust with Malaysia. When you have a relationship of trust, there’s always somebody else out there looking to take advantage of that,” he said.
“We want to encourage visitors to come, but we want them to come according to their visa conditions,” he said, advising Malaysians who want to
visit the country to apply for the visa two or three weeks before their travel.
“Normally with the ETA, the approval process takes only a day, but due to some circumstances the authority may require additional information. So, it’s best to apply early,” he said.
Goledzinowski also revealed that between 3,000 and 4,000 Malaysians migrate to Australia annually, driving up the prices of real estate in the country. It was reported that Malaysians had snapped up properties totalling US$546.5 million (RM2.3 billion), but the ambassador believes the figure could be higher.
“To be honest, to me, the figure looked too low. Even if you look at residential property, I would expect it to be higher than that. If you include commercial properties, I’m sure it’s more. The numbers are high, but I don’t know if we keep track according to nationality,” he said.
Goledzinowski said Malaysians are keen on Australia’s real estate as they believe that the country is a safe destination to invest in.
“Real estate in Australia is traditionally a good industry. Prices have been going up for a long time. We are relatable.
“Malaysians know Australia very well and they feel comfortable investing there. Many buyers have children there. So, they buy properties for them to stay, or a place for them to visit. They know Australia is a reliable destination, very low sovereign risk, the rules are consistent.”