KUALA LUMPUR: The Malaysian government will consider requests by stranded foreigners holding expired social visit passes to remain in the country on a "case-to-case basis", said Home Affairs Minister Hamzah Zainudin on Monday (Apr 12).
This came after some embassies in Malaysia reminded their citizens who are holding expired social visit passes and stranded due to the Movement Control Order (MCO) to leave the country by Apr 21 or risk being penalised.
During a press conference, Mr Hamzah was asked to confirm if foreigners on expired social visit passes are required to leave the country by Apr 21.
The minister replied: "Those who we have been caught and committed offences, including offences that are against Malaysian law ... once it's time to send them back, we send them back."
"We are a government that is responsible to the people in our country. For those who are stranded because of the MCO issue, on humanitarian grounds, it is only fair if they come out and apply to me and I will consider on a case-to-case basis," he added.
Also addressing the issue, Malaysia's director-general of immigration Khairul Dzaimee Daud released a statement on Monday evening stating that foreigners who are unable to leave the country by Apr 21 may apply for a special pass to extend their stay.
He noted that Malaysia's immigration department is aware of foreigners on expired social visit passes who are facing difficulties returning home to their countries due to lack of flights and issues relating to COVID-19.
However, he added that the extension must be approved by their respective embassies.
"Documents of proof of address and financial means to stay in Malaysia must be submitted as well," Mr Khairul added.
The US embassy said in a health alert posted on its website: "In January 2021, the Malaysian authorities informed the US Embassy that foreign nationals currently in Malaysia with social visit passes that expired on or after Jan 1, 2020 will have a grace period of 14 working days after the end of the MCO (which, at the time, was scheduled to end on Mar 31) to leave Malaysia without having to apply for a special pass or obtain prior approval from Malaysian Immigration."
The reminder, dated Apr 8, noted that the Malaysian authorities have not indicated that the above-mentioned grace period has been extended.
"US citizens in Malaysia holding expired social visit passes should prepare to depart Malaysia prior to Apr 21 (14 working days after Mar 31). Individuals holding expired social visit passes who stay in Malaysia or attempt to depart Malaysia after that time may be subject to strict penalties, including immigration detention and fines," the embassy added.
In early January, the Malaysian government extended the recovery phase of the MCO until Mar 31. Later, all states except Sarawak were placed under MCO again when cases spiked. The restrictions were later eased and the recovery MCO and conditional MCO are now slated to end on Apr 28.
There are now more than 360,000 COVID-19 cases in Malaysia, with more than 1,300 deaths.
Meanwhile, the Singapore high commission in Kuala Lumpur posted an update on Apr 5, on "frequently asked questions" about the MCO.
The update said: "Malaysian immigration authorities have clarified that foreigners who entered Malaysia before the MCO on 18 Mar 2020 and whose social visit passes have expired are allowed to leave Malaysia within 14 working days from Mar 31, 2021 (i.e. Apr 21, 2021) without having to obtain prior approval or any special pass."
The high commission added that those with valid reasons and need to continue to stay in Malaysia may regularise their stay and apply for a relevant long-term pass as soon as possible "or risk being subjected to penalties for immigration offences".
The embassies of Ireland and Italy also posted similar notices.
STRANDED FOREIGNERS HAVE PROPERTY, LOVED ONES IN MALAYSIA
Foreigners interviewed by CNA said they were scrambling to make arrangements to travel home after being notified of the Apr 21 deadline.
Singaporean Haszreen Hassan, who has been staying in his property in Johor since MCO was first announced in March last year, told CNA that he is "desperately" trying to appeal to stay in Malaysia longer.
Mr Haszreen said after border restrictions were announced during the MCO in 2020, he elected to stay put in Johor to take care of his home and two cats.
His wife and two children moved to Singapore as they had to attend work and school. The family was staying in Johor Bahru before COVID-19.
"It is very short notice and too sudden for me to pack up and go now," said the 50-year-old.
"I stayed to take care of my home, to ensure the weeds do not grow too long. I've seen other Singaporeans who own property in Johor, their houses have become unkempt and some of them even left their pets behind to die. It is sad," he added.
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Indian citizen Svetha Ramnaidu also told CNA that she is “quite lost” on what to do next because “it is all happening too quickly”.
“My husband is in India. I came here (to Kuala Lumpur) for my work as a wedding planner and I stayed on for a while because I have family here.
“When the announcement was made on the MCO, my husband asked me to stay here because my aunt who has cancer was alone as her children were in Australia,” said the 34-year-old.
She was shocked to read the news about the Apr 21 deadline. She added that she cannot pack up and leave immediately even if she wanted to, because her aunt needed help.
“Maybe I will apply for an extension, unless my cousins, at least one of them can come back, then I will apply to leave instead,” she said.
Additional reporting by D Kanyakumari