©New Straits Times
(Used by permission)
IN the mix of measures the government has deployed to fight illegal immigration,
a crucial link always seemed to be missing somewhere in the defences.
Over the years, immigration laws have been tightened,
enforcement beefed up, and occasional offers of amnesty made, but the results
remain unimpressive. One reason for this is that while much attention is focused
on nabbing and punishing the immigrant, there hasn’t seemed to be an equal
emphasis on making sure the employer is made to face the law with sufficient
However, the tipping point needed to address this imbalance may have arrived. On
Thursday, restaurant owner S. Varatheraaj V. Santrian became the country’s first
employer to be punished with a stroke of the cane, alongside a 10-month jail
term, for harbouring six Indian workers.
For too long, the battle seems only to have focused on one side of the traffic,
and the numbers speak for themselves: as of March last year there were 362,958
overstayers arrested and deported, but only 186 employers charged.
And while one in three illegal foreign workers convicted in the first three
months of this year was sentenced to be whipped, no guilty employer has ever
been lashed, even though the Immigration Act allows corporal punishment as a
The Act was even amended five years ago to make caning mandatory, but three
years later, Indonesia’s Manpower Minister Fahmi Idris — our neighbour being a
major source country of illegal immigrants — famously remarked how he was still
waiting for a Malaysian court to cane an offending employer.
With the country’s illegal worker population estimated at a whopping half a
million, the sheer extent of the problem may understandably cause some to prefer
tougher border enforcement as the way to go instead of dealing firmly with the
sordid business of labour exploitation.
But in trying to turn the tide on an influx driven mainly by the search of jobs
offered by willing hirers, the point to note is that it takes two to tango.
Behind every illegal immigrant is an employer smug in the knowledge that his
fate, at worst, will only be a slap on the wrist in the form of fines.
By demonstrating just how far the authorities are willing to go when laying down
the law, a much-needed message will be sent out to those creating the demand for
illegal workers in the first place: that when it comes to manpower recruitment,
they no longer have any choice but to follow the rules.