KUALA LUMPUR, Nov 30 — The Association of Family Support and Welfare Selangor and Kuala Lumpur (Family Frontiers) urged the federal government today to adopt family-friendly immigration policies in line with the ongoing 16 days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence.

While welcoming the government’s recent visa liberalisation plan, including the introduction of a 30-day multiple-entry visa (MEV) and a long-term social visit pass for international students, the rights group said more must be done for Malaysian binational families.

“Women and children in Malaysian binational families are often overlooked, despite an estimated average of 164,000 visas being issued annually by the Immigration Department of Malaysia to non-citizen spouses of Malaysians.

“Despite living here for many years, raising children and establishing permanent homes, their legal status remains uncertain and dependent on their Malaysian spouses. These restrictions disproportionately impact women in binational marriages,” it said in a statement today.

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Family Frontiers said four areas needed urgent attention. The first area of concern highlighted by the organisation revolves around the limitations to employment faced by non-citizen spouses.

“Non-citizen spouses, comprising a valuable but often overlooked workforce of professionals and skilled individuals, face significant employment restrictions. The long-term social visit pass issued to these spouses includes a restrictive employment prohibition, presenting substantial challenges in securing work.

“Despite the possibility of obtaining a work endorsement, the initial prohibition hinders job offers, with further complications related to state-specific restrictions and cumbersome processes for employment transfers,” it said.

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The next area was restricted access to permanent residence for non-citizen spouses, with the group saying applications were frequently affected by lack of transparency, prolonged waiting times and low approval rates, which keep foreign spouses dependent on their Malaysian husbands or wives.

A 2022 survey by Family Frontiers with 65 respondents who applied for permanent residence, revealed that none of the participants had their permanent residence applications approved; all applications were still pending, with 28 per cent waiting for more than 4 years and 30.2 per cent of the respondents kept waiting for permanent residence approval for over six years.

The third area the group highlighted was the proposed amendment to Article 26(2), related to Article 15(1), which allows the government to revoke Malaysian citizenship in the event of marriage dissolution within two years of obtaining citizenship.

Family Frontiers argued that this proposed amendment, aimed at curbing “marriages of convenience,” could inadvertently affect non-citizen spouses seeking citizenship, as the criteria have shifted from residing in Malaysia for two years post-marriage to two years after obtaining Malaysian permanent residence.

Lastly, the group urged the government to proceed immediately with the constitutional amendment to grant automatic Malaysian citizenship to children born abroad to Malaysian mothers, which was already a right for Malaysian fathers with foreign spouses.

The group said that addressing these identified gaps aligns with the government’s commitment to the Sustainable Development Goals of leaving no one behind and serves as a critical step in fostering a fair and supportive environment for Malaysian binational families.

On November 27, Home Minister Datuk Seri Saifuddin Nasution Ismail said that Malaysia will offer long-term social visit passes to international students from 23 low-risk nations — including neighbours Singapore and Brunei — to allow them to stay here for up to a year after graduation, with this new policy to start on December 1 this year.

Saifuddin Nasution said that the visa liberalisation plan, introduced with improvements to existing immigration facilities, has already been enjoyed by inbound travellers from Europe, South East Asia, the Middle East and West Asia.

These benefits include a 30-day MEV for all tourists wanting to come to Malaysia, a Long-term social visit pass for periods of up to 12 months for international students who completed their studies in Malaysia for the purpose of furthering their studies, touring and working part-time in sectors allowed under Malaysian law, he said.

The global 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence is a key international moment to call for an end to violence against women and girls. It runs from 25th November (the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women) until 10th December, Human Rights Day.