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'I don't want to commute anymore': Some Malaysian workers settle in Singapore even as land border reopens

'I don't want to commute anymore': Some Malaysian workers settle in Singapore even as land border reopens

People walking towards Johor along the Causeway early on Apr 1, 2022. (Photo: CNA/Calvin Oh)

SINGAPORE: It was the last day living in Singapore for Mr Azhar Samsi, who was queuing at the Queen Street bus station for a ticket home on Friday morning (Apr 8).

The 36-year-old Malaysian and father of four works as a production operator in Singapore, and is finally moving back home after two years of living apart from his family.

Mr Azhar will now commute daily by motorcycle between Johor and Singapore for work, like he did before the pandemic. This will save him S$500 a month, the cost of renting a room in Singapore.

But for some other Malaysians, the thought of going back to commuting every day between Singapore and Johor is more daunting.

Ms Kalai Selei, 40, was also at the bus station on her way home for the weekend.

The sales employee has not decided whether to give up her rented room in Singapore. Expenses are higher here but it is less tiring than commuting back and forth every day, she said.

“I will wait for two months … I want to see the situation first, is (the Causeway) jammed like last time,” she said.

Security officer Mani Alagan, 47, also plans to continue renting in Singapore and visiting his family in Johor every fortnight.

If he were to commute between the two countries every day, he would reach home at 10pm and would have to leave for work at 4.30am, he said. 

The land border between Singapore and Malaysia reopened on Apr 1 for vaccinated travellers. It is the first time in two years that people can travel freely across the border by any form of transport without the need for testing or isolation.

While there was a vaccinated travel lane via land before, there was a quota with designated bus services and tickets were snatched up quickly. 

RENTS STILL RISING

ERA Realty agent Alex Cheng said that a few Malaysian tenants have asked him about terminating their rental leases early, but he’s also still getting many queries from Malaysians about renting a room in Singapore.

While the border was closed, the demand for rooms from Malaysians working in Singapore pushed the rents in Woodlands up by about 20 per cent, he said.

The rent for a four-room HDB flat went up from around S$2,000 to S$2,500. Even after the border reopened, “demand is still very high”.

He added that it could be enough for many workers to visit their families during the weekends and stay in Singapore on weekdays.

Other property analysts and agents CNA spoke to said rental demand has been very strong over the past few months and rents are still rising for both private properties and public housing flats.

According to Urban Redevelopment Authority data, rents of private homes, including executive condominiums, rose 9.9 per cent last year, said Ms Christine Sun, senior vice-president of research and analytics at OrangeTee & Tie.

"With the easing of safe management measures and borders reopening further, we are expecting more Malaysians especially work pass holders to return to Singapore," she said.

"This may drive rental demand higher, especially in areas near the Causeway, or the northern part of Singapore like Yishun, Sembawang and Woodlands or the western part of the island like Jurong."

Mr Ying Khuan Pow, head of research for property portal 99.co, said the number of daily commuters between Singapore and Johor has yet to return to pre-pandemic levels.

"Rental demand remains robust as we are seeing strong price growths and healthy volumes in both condo and HDB rental markets since mid-2020," he said.

Such high rents are pushing some families to buy a flat instead. ERA property agent Kelvin See said that he's had a few queries from Malaysian families who have permanent residency in Singapore.

Ms Ivy Toh used to commute daily from Johor, but her whole family moved to Singapore during the pandemic.

She said that she realised how much more time they now have and how much less tiring it was to live in Singapore rather than do the Causeway crossing daily.

But with rising rents, the administrative assistant said that they are now looking to buy a flat.

"We've worked here for many years and are used to working and living here," she said in Mandarin. "The kids are now in secondary school and their hours are longer. I don't think we can go back to commuting daily, they will be too tired." 

One Malaysian CNA spoke to is now moving to Singapore to be with his family.

Mr Faizal Khalit, a telecommunications executive in Johor, would visit Singapore every weekend to spend time with his Singaporean wife and children before the pandemic. After COVID-19 struck, he stayed put in Malaysia and has been separated from his family for more than two years.

"I don't want to commute anymore ... Maybe there will be another pandemic and maybe borders close again. So I don't want to take that risk," he said.

When asked why they chose to live in Singapore instead of Malaysia, Mr Faizal said his children go to schools here and it was easier for him to move than to uproot his family.

"I know I have to forgo my career ... and I will start all over again working in Singapore. That's the choice I have to make."

Source: CNA/hm(cy)
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