KUALA LUMPUR, March 15 — Have you been wondering why Malaysian mothers had to resort to taking the Malaysian government to court in order to ensure that their overseas-born children could also be Malaysian citizens?
The simple answer is that Malaysian mothers married to foreigners have to apply for their overseas-born children to be recognised as Malaysians, which could take years of processing by the Malaysian government. Even after years of waiting, there is no guarantee that their children would actually receive such citizenship recognition.
This is in comparison to Malaysian fathers married to foreigners and whose overseas-born children are entitled under Malaysia’s citizenship laws to be Malaysian citizens, which is virtually an automatic right that does not require a lengthy citizenship application process.
Just how hard is it for Malaysian mothers to apply for their children born outside of Malaysia to be recognised as citizens? (Spoiler: Very hard. Backed by data below.)
Here’s what the numbers show, based on the Home Ministry’s November 29, 2021 reply in the Dewan Rakyat to Segambut MP Hannah Yeoh’s request for detailed data comparing Malaysian mothers with Malaysian fathers who obtained Malaysian citizenship for their overseas-born children since 2010.
1. First it was smooth, then more difficult, then the wait became longer
Currently, Malaysian mothers generally only have the option of applying for their overseas-born children to be registered as a Malaysian citizen under Article 15(2) of the Federal Constitution.
Under Article 15(2), the federal government may register any person — aged below 21 and who has at least one Malaysian parent — as a Malaysian citizen, upon application being made by this person’s parent or guardian.
In the November 2021 reply, the Home Ministry provided the National Registration Department’s (NRD) statistics of the number of Article 15(2) citizenship applications for such Malaysian mothers’ children from the year 2010 up until October 11, 2021, as well as the status of such applications.
The approval rate or success rate for Malaysian mothers’ citizenship applications for their overseas-born children was initially high at over 63 per cent in the years 2010 and 2011, with 249 and 384 children being recognised as citizens in these two years.
Starting from the year 2012 however, the approval rate fell to 33.5 per cent approval rate or with just 203 applications approved, followed by just 33 approvals each in 2013 and 2014, and just 23 approvals in 2015, five approvals (2016), eight approvals (2017), two approvals (2018), eight approvals (2019), three approvals (2020) and none in the January to October 11, 2021 period.
Conversely, the rejection rate shot up for four years to be 54.13 per cent (2012), 79.12 per cent (2013), 81.58 per cent (2014), 90.11 per cent (2015), with a total 1,784 rejections for these four years alone. This was followed by a 33.08 per cent rejection rate or 216 rejections in 2016.
After the high approval rates in two years and high rejection rates in four years, this was then followed by about six years of citizenship applications mostly just stuck at the processing stage, with 61.72 per cent or 403 being processed (2016), and 90.80 per cent (2017), 94.05 per cent (2018), 94.87 per cent (2019), 96.77 per cent (2020) and 96.97 per cent (up to October 2021).
Being stuck at the “processing” stage means the Malaysian mothers have to continue to wait just to know whether the Malaysian government has approved or rejected the application, with some experiencing two to three years or up to even beyond four years of waiting for a decision.
In short: As a whole, for Malaysian mothers who used the Article 15(2) route to apply for their overseas-born children to be recognised as Malaysian citizens via 6,296 applications from 2010 to October 11, 2021, the majority (43.28 per cent or 2,725 applications) were recorded as still being processed, while 35.59 per cent or 2,241 applications were rejected.
During that same 12-year period, only 15.1 per cent or 951 of the 6,296 citizenship applications were approved, while around six per cent or 379 applications were cancelled.
It is unclear why Article 15(2) citizenship applications for children born overseas to Malaysian mothers went through such a trend of high approval rates, then high rejection rates and then high processing rates through this period of around 12 years.
In these 12 years, Malaysia has seen four home ministers --- who oversee agencies such as the NRD, namely Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Hussein from 2009 to April 2013, Datuk Seri Ahmad Zahid Hamidi from May 2013 to May 2018, Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin from May 2018 to February 2020, and Datuk Seri Hamzah Zainudin from March 2020 until now.
On April 1, 2010, the Dewan Rakyat’s Hansard showed Hishammuddin as saying that a task force was in 2009 formed to resolve the 32,927 pending citizenship applications from the years 1997 to 2006, and that the Home Ministry had for citizenship applications received from 2009 onwards fixed a maximum processing period of three years from the date of a complete application being received by the NRD.
On April 18, 2010, Hishammuddin was reported saying the Home Ministry had set a target starting from that year to inform applicants of their citizenship applications’ outcome within a maximum two years from the date of a complete application received, to enable applicants to find other alternatives if unsuccessful.
On January 24, 2011, Hishammuddin was reported saying that the Home Ministry via the NRD had set one year as the maximum time to process and issue a decision on citizenship applications.
On the NRD’s website, its frequently-asked-questions section on citizenship states that citizenship applications would be processed and completed within one year from the date of a complete application received by the NRD headquarters in Putrajaya.
In a March 2, 2022 parliamentary reply to Batu Kawan MP Kasthuri Patto on Malaysian mothers with overseas-born children and for citizenship applications by children in general, the Home Ministry however said there is no fixed period for decisions to be issued for citizenship applications and that it may differ according to the needs of case, and with each application’s facts and documents presented by applicants to be scrutinised in turn before a decision is made.
The Home Ministry’s March 2022 reply also said 4,870 citizenship applications for the overseas-born children of Malaysian mothers married to foreigners from 2013 to February 15, 2022 resulted in 117 approvals and 1,728 rejections.
Based on Malay Mail’s calculations which compared the earlier data on the 2010 to 2020 period, this meant that only two citizenship applications were approved during the 2021 to February 2022 period despite the addition of 337 new applications. This is in line with the declining trend of successful applications, with 836 applications approved in a three-year period (2010-2012), then just 89 approved in the next three-year period (2013-2015), and just 28 approved over slightly more than six years (2016-February 2022).
2. Is it about religion or race?
The short answer: Whatever the religion or ethnicity involved, all Malaysian mothers actually face the same prospects of having their overseas-born children’s citizenship applications being rejected or being kept waiting at the processing stage. They are all stuck in this situation, simply because of their gender and how the country’s citizenship laws are currently interpreted.
There may be lingering suspicions among the public as sometimes seen in comments by social media users, over whether there could be any race or any religion perceived to be less or to be more favoured when it comes to citizenship recognition by the Malaysian government. So here’s what the Home Ministry’s data shows:
For the Article 15(2) route used by Malaysian mothers for their overseas-born children, the 6,296 citizenship applications from 2010 to October 2021 were grouped into 10 categories, namely Buddhism, Islam, Christianity, Hinduism, Sikhism, no religion, no information, Bahai, Taoism and “others”.
Looking at just the four main categories with the highest citizenship applications during this period for ease of comparison, all of them had recorded higher processing and rejection rates than approval rates.
The 2,220 applicants in the Buddhist category saw 761 rejections, 1,079 still being processed and 246 approvals, while the 2,184 applicants in the Muslim category saw 690 rejections, 857 still being processed and 483 approvals.
Meanwhile, the 1,165 applicants in the Christian category saw 448 rejections, 531 still being processed and 131 approvals, while the 384 applicants in the Hindu category saw 188 rejections, 118 still being processed and 54 approved.
For better comparison, in terms of percentage, citizenship applications in the Muslim category had 22.12 per cent approval rate, followed by Hindu with 14.06 per cent approval rate, Christian (11.24 per cent), and Buddhist (11.08 per cent).
In terms of rejection rate for the 12-year period, citizenship applications in the Hindu category had 48.96 per cent rejection rate, followed by Christian (38.45 per cent), Buddhist (34.28 per cent) and Muslim (31.59 per cent).
For the processing rate, 48.6 per cent of citizenship applications in the Buddhist category are still being processed, followed by 45.58 per cent (Christian), 39.24 per cent (Muslim), and 30.73 per cent (Hindu).
For those not having a religion or lacking information about their religious status, they also experienced approvals, rejections and being stuck in processing, just like those with a religious status.
For the same Article 15(2) applications used by Malaysian mothers for their overseas-born children, the 6,296 citizenship applications from 2010 to October 2021 were also listed according to 108 categories for keturunan or descent, which could be seen referring to countries or ethnic and sub-ethnic groups in Malaysia and including one category tagged as “No information”.
Some examples include Thai, Arab, British, Caucasian, European, while local ethnic and sub-ethnic groups (such as Orang Asli, Bajau, Suluk, Bisaya, Melanau, Bidayuh, Kenyah, Rungus, Kelabit, Kedayan, Kayan, Lundayeh, Murut, Sipeng, Sungai) and Chinese sub-ethnic groups such as (Khek (Hakka), Hokkien, Cantonese, Teochew, Hainanese, Hokchiu) were also seen listed.
When compared according to percentage, the category with “No information” for descent stands out as having the highest rejection rate at 88.92 per cent or which translated to 305 of 343 such applications rejected.
For the 39 categories with at least double digits or three digits or even up to four digits in terms of number of applications, a comparison according to percentage shows those with relatively higher rejection rates as Netherlands (63.64 per cent), Sikhs (61.1 per cent), Thai (60.61 per cent), Bugis (55 per cent), Italy (53.33 per cent), British (50 per cent).
On a quick glance, a percentage comparison for the same 39 categories shows those with relatively higher approval rates as being Cambodia (46.15 per cent), Suluk (37.5 per cent), Indian Muslims (28.13 per cent), the Netherlands (27.27 per cent), Malays (26.14 per cent), Korean (25.93 per cent), Bangladeshi (23.08 per cent), Punjabi and Japanese both at 21.62 per cent, and British (21.15 per cent).
For the same 39 categories, those with relatively higher rates of being at the processing stage are Taiwan (76 per cent), Bidayuh (75 per cent), Khek (Hakka) (70 per cent), France (66.67 per cent), Caucasian (63.83 per cent), US (63.64 per cent), Kadazan (59.26 per cent), Germany (58.33 per cent), Sino-Native (57.14 per cent), Korean (55.56 per cent), Bajau (52.94 per cent), Dusun (52.63 per cent), Chinese (51.59 per cent), and Turkey (50 per cent).
Looking at just the three categories with the highest number of applications, the Chinese category with 2,615 applications had 271 approvals (10.36 per cent), 848 rejections (32.43 per cent) and 1,349 being processed (51.59 per cent); while the Malays category with 1,255 applications had 328 approvals (26.14 per cent), 296 rejections (23.59 per cent) and 525 being processed (41.83 per cent); and the Indians category with 525 applications had 90 approvals (17.14 per cent), 239 rejections (45.52 per cent) and 165 being processed (31.43 per cent).
As the Home Ministry’s data was presented in an aggregated data or summarised form, it did not include further information such as the reasons for the rejections, and there should be caution against drawing immediate conclusions on the role that ethnicity, descent by country and religion have to play in the decision-making process.
But what is clear that Malaysian mothers share the same problem of uncertainty for their overseas-born children’s identity, regardless of their background.
3. Malaysian mothers’ children born overseas vs born in Singapore
If you happen to be a Malaysian mother and gave birth to a child in Singapore to a non-Malaysian father, the success rate for your overseas-born child’s Malaysian citizenship bid is really high at almost 84 per cent, where 1,023 of 1,219 applications were approved during the same period of 2010 to October 2021.
Only six applications had the “gagal” status or were rejected, which means a rejection rate of almost 0.5 per cent.
Compare this to the Malaysian mothers whose children were born in any overseas country (except for Singapore) during the same time period, where only 15.1 per cent were approved and 35.59 per cent rejected. The only thing different for these overseas-born children is just that they were not born in Singapore.
In terms of speed, it appears to be relatively faster for Singapore-born children to Malaysian mothers, with the overall percentage of applications still being processed being relatively low at just 10.01 per cent or 122 applications being processed from 2010 to October 2021. When looked at year by year, the processing rate was generally within the 1.5 per cent to eight per cent range, except for recent years — 42.52 per cent or 54 applications (2019), 36.36 per cent or 16 (2020), 62.50 per cent or 15 (January to October 2021).
Also, all 122 applications for Singapore-born children that were still being processed were those that had no information recorded for both their religion and descent. If these 122 were excluded from the calculations, it would then boost the actual approval rate to 99 per cent for the 12-year-period.
4. What about for Malaysian fathers’ children born overseas?
As for Malaysian fathers, it is also relatively easier with 63.81 per cent approval rate or 4,218 of 6,611 applications for their overseas-born children’s Malaysian citizenship recognition succeeding during the same 2010 to October 2021 period, while 13.63 per cent or 901 were rejected, and 8.89 per cent or 588 being processed.
When looked at year by year, the processing rate for Malaysian fathers’ children’s citizenship applications was initially within the two to about six per cent range, but increased in recent years to 12.87 per cent or 52 applications (2017), 18.12 per cent or 83 (2018), 34.58 per cent or 139 (2019), 33.33 per cent or 60 (2020), and 64.06 per cent or 82 (January to October 2021).
But the fact is, 898 of 901 applications which were rejected and 586 of 588 applications being processed are those with no information on their religion or their descent. This means that it is a 99 per cent success rate in this 12-year-period or virtually guaranteed for overseas-born children of Malaysian fathers to be Malaysians and without the long wait for processing, if information on religion and descent is provided (and which presumably means complete details were given).
5. So what does this mean?
In short: If you are a Malaysian mother who gave birth to a child overseas (any country except Singapore) with a foreign spouse and want the child to be recognised as a Malaysian, you may be facing a long wait and even higher chances of rejection by the Malaysian government.
(Even if your child’s application does not fall under the categories of “No information” for descent or religion, your success rate may not change much, as seen in the calculations below based on the 2010 to October 2021 figures.)
But if you are a Malaysian father with a child born overseas or a Malaysian mother with a foreign spouse with a child born in Singapore, it is much easier and much faster for your child to be recognised as a Malaysian citizen. And it does look like approval for your child’s status as a Malaysian citizen could even be 99 per cent or virtually guaranteed if your child’s information such as descent is complete.
*In Part II of this story, we will explore why it is currently easier for Malaysian fathers to have their overseas-born children recognised as Malaysians when compared to Malaysian mothers, and what is being done to change this.