GEORGE TOWN, April 20 — Earlier this month, the government announced that all foreigners with expired social visit passes would have to leave the country by tomorrow — April 21.
While many who had been here since Malaysia first closed its borders last March managed to book flights out of the country, others are still stranded here.
One of them is British citizen Ronald Mooney who arrived in Malaysia with his wife, Pauline, on March 9, 2020.
The couple was allowed to stay on with expired social passes until now. Though reluctant to leave, Mooney managed to get flight tickets home with Qatar Airlines on May 22.
Since his travel date is after the deadline given, he has tried to apply for a special pass to extend his stay but was turned away by the Immigration Department in Penang.
“They told me that they have not received any directives to issue special passes so I couldn’t apply for one,” he said. This despite the announcement on April 12 by the Home Minister Datuk Seri Hamzah Zainudin that those who need extra time can apply for special passes.
The 74-year-old Mooney visits Malaysia with his wife every year in the winter months. He explained he would rent an apartment in Penang for a full year so they could spend their annual holiday here.
“I feel safe in Malaysia and I love coming to Malaysia, it would break my heart if due to this matter of unintentional overstaying, I am blacklisted from coming back here,” he said.
He added he is in the high risk category due to his age and an autoimmune disease so he would prefer to stay in Penang which he believes is safer compared to his home in London.
“The government here has a good control of the pandemic so we felt safe here and the government allowing us to stay on since last year is a gift that we are fully appreciative of,” he explained.
Mooney said he is paying for his stay in Penang and not burdening the government or the local economy in any way.
“They can’t put us in the same group as those who abused their social passes, we are not in the same group as the prostitutes and scammers,” he said.
He was referring to Immigration director-general Datuk Khairul Dzaimee Daud’s comments that some foreigners had abused the social pass by working in entertainment outlets, massage centres and being involved in prostitution, scams and other violations of the law.
In the meantime, Mooney is in a quandary as the Immigration Department in Penang is not issuing special passes and he is only leaving on May 22.
“I called them again and they told me to wait and see so that is what I will do, wait and see, but after tomorrow, I will be staying here illegally,” he said.
Khairul had announced that those who have difficulties returning to their country of origin can request for a special pass to extend their stay in the country but they would need to bring supporting letters from their respective embassies.
Those who wish to apply for the special pass, which is only for 30 days, will need to bring a letter from their respective embassies, bank statement, flight ticket, proof of accommodation, a copy of their passports and pay a fee.
However, a check on a private Facebook group titled “Tourists stranded in Malaysia” showed that numerous foreigners from various countries including the UK, US, Australia, Europe, China and Japan were facing difficulties even fixing appointments at the Immigration Department offices to apply for the special pass.
There are over 3,000 members in the private group and members have been posting updates of their predicament.
Some of them have successfully applied for the special passes in Immigration Departments in Langkawi, Ipoh and Putrajaya while some could not get appointment dates to submit their application before April 21.
A few others had unpleasant experiences at the Immigration Department in Penang where they claimed they were told off for overstaying and that no special passes will be issued so some of them have resorted to travelling to Kedah, Perak and even Putrajaya to apply for the special pass.
Due to the high number of foreigners rushing to set appointments at the Immigration Department in various states to apply for the special pass, the earliest appointment dates many of them could get were in May.
A check at the online appointment system on the Immigration website showed that the earliest available appointment date for the Immigration Department in Penang is May 27.
Meanwhile, over at the Thai Consulate in Penang, groups of Thai citizens have gathered outside the consulate to obtain supporting documents for them to apply for the special pass.
One of them, Karuesong Kache, 60, said she is here in Malaysia to visit her family members who are working and living here.
“I am here to ask if the consulate can help me to stay on a bit longer while I arrange for transport to go back to Patani,” she said.
She said she frequently comes to Malaysia and travels back and forth regularly but had stayed on due to the pandemic.
According to a Thai Consulate spokesperson, there are more Thai citizens queuing up over the last week to renew their expired passports and apply for various documents.
“There are also those who came here to apply for Certificate of Entry (CoE) to enter Thailand,” she said.
A travel agent, who wished to be known as Daniel, said he has helped a dozen tourists leave Penang over the last week.
“Many of them don’t want to go back to their own country as they feel safer here but since they had to leave, some have applied for the CoE to go to Thailand instead,” he said.
He said some have sought help to fly to other countries that are open while some had reluctantly flown back to their home countries.
“I don’t understand what the government is doing. Thailand is accepting these tourists with open arms because it means tourism dollars for them and our government is telling these tourists to leave even though our tourism industry is suffering,” he said.
He said many of these long-staying tourists are rich and are either renting apartments here or have long-stay packages in hotels.