KUALA LUMPUR, March 25 — The Malaysian government today tabled its Bill to make changes to citizenship laws in the Federal Constitution, including a long-awaited amendment to finally enable Malaysian mothers’ overseas-born children to also be entitled to automatic Malaysian citizenship.

In the Bill that was tabled in the Dewan Rakyat today for first reading by Home Minister Datuk Seri Saifuddin Nasution Ismail, the Malaysian government however also included proposed amendments — which civil society has described as “regressive” and potentially worsening the problem of statelessness in the country — such as removing the right of permanent residents’ Malaysia-born children to be entitled to Malaysian citizenship.

Currently, the Federal Constitution’s Second Schedule’s Part II’s Section 1(a) provides that those born in Malaysia to at least one Malaysian parent or at least one permanent resident parent, would be entitled to Malaysian citizenship by operation of law or because the law says so.

The nine-page Bill tabled today proposes to replace the words “either a citizen or permanently resident in the Federation” with the words “a citizen” in Section 1(a), which would effectively be deleting the words “permanently resident”. According to the government’s explanatory statement, this means a child born in Malaysia — to at least one parent who is a permanent resident at the time of the child’s birth — would “no longer be eligible for citizenship by operation of law”.


Yesterday, the Malaysian Citizenship Rights Alliance (MCRA) had urged the government to drop or at least defer the regressive amendments, cautioning that deleting the category of having at least one “permanent resident” parent from Section 1(a) would affect the locally-born children of local natives — Orang Asli in Peninsular Malaysia and Orang Asal in Sabah and Sarawak — the most.

Even after 60 years of Malaysia being formed, MCRA had highlighted that many natives in Malaysia continue to only hold permanent resident (PR) status and red identification cards denoting their status as PR only. These natives remain stateless as they are not citizens of Malaysia or any country.

MCRA had yesterday said that removing the eligibility of permanent residents’ Malaysia-born children to be Malaysian citizens automatically would result in the effect of removing the Section 19B protection against statelessness for Malaysia-born foundlings or abandoned babies.


Under the existing Section 19B, “any new born child found exposed in any place” (which the Federal Court has said includes babies abandoned at their place of birth by an unknown birth mother) is to be presumed to have been born to a mother who is a permanent resident, until the contrary is shown. Such children would be entitled to Malaysian citizenship because of the current Section 1(a) which states that those who are Malaysia-born with at least one PR parent would be entitled to citizenship.

While the home minister had last Friday said Cabinet had decided to maintain Section 19B of Part III of the Second Schedule in the Federal Constitution instead of amending it, the Bill today proposed to amend Section 19B by presuming such abandoned babies’ mothers to be a “citizen” instead of “permanent resident”.

The other ‘regressive’ citizenship amendments and that ‘progressive’ amendment in the Bill

In the Bill known as the Constitution (Amendment) Bill 2024, the government has also included the proposed amendment — also branded as regressive by MCRA — to multiple citizenship provisions in the Federal Constitution to reduce the age limit from 21 years old to 18 years old.

This includes amending Article 15(2), which effectively lowers the age limit of a child — who has at least one Malaysian parent — to apply to be a Malaysian citizen through registration from age 21 to 18. (Currently, Malaysian mothers’ overseas-born children rely on this provision to apply for Malaysian citizenship.)

In an explanatory statement in the Bill, the government said the reason for the proposed lowering of the age limit for the citizenship clauses to the age of 18, is to make it consistent with the minimum voting age of 18 in Malaysia, the age of majority (18) in the Age of Majority Act 1971 and the definition of child (those aged below 18) in the Child Act 2001.

The Bill also proposed the lowering of the age stated from 21 to 18 for Article 15A (which currently enables the government to register anyone below 21 as a citizen in special circumstances and with the amendment to result in only those being under age 18 as being able to apply for citizenship via Article 15A).

Also to have age changes under the Bill are Article 19(1) and Article 19(2) (with the amendment to result in the minimum age to apply for citizenship by naturalisation being lowered from age 21 to age 18); Article 23(1) (with the amendment’s resulting effect that anyone who is 18 and above who is also another country’s citizen or who is about to become another country’s citizen may renounce his Malaysian citizenship, instead of at the age 21 currently); Article 23(3) (which would result in renunciation of citizenship provisions applying to a married woman under the age of 18 instead of currently to a married woman under the age of 21); and to Article 26A (which would result in the Malaysian government being able to deprive Malaysian citizenship of any child under the age of 18 — of a person who has lost his Malaysian citizenship either through renouncing it or being deprived of it by the Malaysian government — who had been registered as a Malaysian and is a child of that person or that person’s spouse, instead of currently where the government can do so for a child below the age of 21).

Another amendment viewed as regressive by civil society is to Article 26(2), with the proposed change to enable the Malaysian government to deprive or strip off Malaysian citizenship from a previously foreign wife (who had become a Malaysian citizen), if her marriage to her Malaysian husband is dissolved within two years of the day she became a Malaysian citizen.

(This contrasts with the existing Article 26(2) where the Malaysian government can remove Malaysian citizenship from such a wife, if the marriage is dissolved within two years of the marriage).

The proposed amendment which has received widespread support is the enabling of Malaysian mothers to pass on their Malaysian citizenship to their children born abroad, just like Malaysian fathers are currently able to do under the Federal Constitution’s existing citizenship provisions which had only mentioned the word “father”.

This amendment — described as progressive by civil society — involves the replacement of the words “whose father” with the words “of whose parents one at least” in Sections 1(b) and 1(c) of Part II of the Second Schedule in the Federal Constitution.

Another amendment is to Section 1(b), where the birth of such overseas-born children (to at least one Malaysian parent) is required to be registered at a Malaysian consulate or with the Malaysian government within one year of the child’s birth “or within such longer period as the federal government may in any particular case allow”. The addition of this requirement for birth registration to Section 1(b) is consistent with Section 1(c)’s existing birth registration requirement, the Bill explains.

The Bill also seeks to introduce an entirely new section — Section 3 into Part II of the Second Schedule — to require anyone under the age of 18 who had acquired Malaysian citizenship by operation of law — due to Sections 1(b) or 1(c) where they were born abroad and have at least one Malaysian parent — to take an oath (to be known as the “Oath of Renunciation, Loyalty and Allegiance” under another new amendment in the First Schedule) when they turn 18.

Under the proposed Section 3, such overseas-born children (to at least one Malaysian parent) who are Malaysian citizens due to Sections 1(b) or 1(c) have to take the oath within 48 months (equivalent to four years) after reaching the age of 18, and that failure to do so by the time they reach the age of 22 would result in them ceasing to be a Malaysian citizen.

Also under the proposed Section 3 is that a child born outside Malaysia — to a person who is a citizen via Section 1(c) and does not reside in Malaysia — is not a citizen by operation of law, and such a person may apply for their child to be a Malaysian citizen by registration.

Other proposed amendments

Other proposed amendments include changing Article 15(1) (to add on having an “adequate knowledge of the Malay language” as an additional requirement for a non-citizen woman who is married to a Malaysian and is applying for Malaysian citizenship through registration).

The Bill also proposes to add in a new clause to Article 18, by introducing Article 18(1A), where a person under the age of 18 who is a Malaysian citizen by registration is required to take the oath in the First Schedule upon turning 18, with failure to take the oath within 48 months of turning 18 resulting in this person ceasing to be a Malaysian citizen.

Currently, Article 23(2) states that a declaration of renunciation of Malaysian citizenship — by a person who is or is about to become another country’s citizen — shall not be registered except with the Malaysian government’s approval, if the declaration is made during any war which Malaysia is engaged in. The registration of such renunciation declarations would be required for the person to cease to be Malaysian.

The Bill proposes to amend Article 23(2) by adding on another situation where the Malaysian government can withhold or not register the citizenship renunciation declaration, namely if the person’s renunciation of Malaysian citizenship is prejudicial to the security of Malaysia or any part of Malaysia, or prejudicial to public order or public interest.

Also proposed are the removal of provisions that are no longer applicable, namely, the deleting of the Federal Constitution’s Article 16A (involving citizenship applications made by those residing in Sabah and Sarawak before the year 1971) as well as Article 15(3).

The Bill also has two “savings” provisions, including for the citizenship status of any person born in Malaysia or born outside of Malaysia and any pending citizenship applications — before the date of these amendments taking legal effect — to be dealt with as if the Federal Constitution had not been amended, if the new amendments become law and come into operation. In other words, the new amendments tabled today will not have retroactive effect if they become legally enforceable, and will only have legal effect on those born or who had made citizenship applications after the amendments become law.