An ongoing challenge faced by Malaysian businesses is the quality and supply of trained human resources. The economy and businesses can only grow with the required talent to drive it.
When the ‘Special Task Force to Facilitate Business’ or Pemudah was established in early 2007, the first order of business was on how to facilitate the growth of businesses in Malaysia.
Tan Sri Mohd Sidek Hassan, the then chief secretary to the Government and chairman of Pemudah and I spoke of the need for an adequate supply of talent to meet the demands of businesses and investors.
It was then that the ease of issuance of work permits for foreign talent came up. We realised that some of the procedures were onerous and time-consuming and that it could take several months for a work permit to be granted. There was obviously a need for liberalisation.
The procedures were historically based on the old “Malayanisation” mindset, that Malaya should be run by Malayans after the country achieved independence in 1957. The belief was that expatriates should be sent back when their terms ended, with Malayans taking over the reins of businesses.
We felt that this outdated mindset had to go as we had entered an era of globalisation and were keen to promote the country as an attractive destination for foreign direct investment. Multinationals and local companies investing in Malaysia needed the assurance that they could bring in talent to enhance the growth of their businesses.
We at Pemudah felt that the decision to allow foreign talent into the country should be a business decision. In achieving global success, specific talents are required and not all these talents are available among locals. Even if there are, the numbers are insufficient. Hence, foreign talent was necessary.
Pemudah discussed with the Immigration Department of Malaysia (JIM) the need to liberalise the criteria for allowing foreign talent and to allow the private sector to make the decision to employ foreign talent based on their own business needs as Malaysia needed to be quick on its feet in competing in a fast-moving globalised environment.
Foreign talent brings with it valuable knowledge, skills and technology that is transferred to local employees who work with them.
Liberalisation through Pemudah
As foreign talent comes at a higher price, taking into account higher remunerations and benefits, companies would rationally not want to incur greater costs unless such costs were necessary. This itself would provide a self-checking mechanism. Bearing this in mind, Pemudah discussed with JIM to liberalise its decision-making process.
A new policy of granting automatic approval for positions above a certain salary was introduced. For positions that required approvals, measures were put in place to reduce the time required to issue expatriate passes.
A monthly report showing time taken between application and approval of work permits and the percentage rate of approval was tabled at Pemudah meetings. The time was reduced from months to just a few days.
In the early days of Pemudah, foreign spouses of Malaysian citizens and expatriates, although highly qualified, were not allowed to work.
Pemudah was instrumental in the decision to allow spouses to work.
Such changes displayed the willingness of the Government to facilitate the entry and retention of foreign talent into the country. The opportunities for positive policy changes to improve the operating environment for business were identified mainly because Tan Sri Mohd Sidek believed fully in the benefits of public-private engagement and encouraged such conversations for change.
In 2010, the Residence Pass–Talent (RP-T) was introduced by the Ministry of Home Affairs (MOHA) through JIM and TalentCorp, an entity that facilitates public and private sector collaborative efforts in creating, motivating and retaining a skilled workforce.
TalentCorp’s initiative in providing RP-T to deserving foreign talent, both C suite and technical talent, is excellent because it showcases Malaysia’s determination and willingness to attract world-class talent.
Pemudah also worked with MOHA on the introduction of the i-Pass which serves as an identification document in lieu of the passport, within Peninsular Malaysia.
The immigration innovation journey has continued. The newly set up Expatriate Services Division (ESD) in Putrajaya has one window which handles all passes for expatriates, even for accompanying domestic workers.
Results are showing
All these efforts have borne fruit and the number of expatriates has steadily increased from 34,735 as of end of 2010 to 90,432 as of April 2014. The growing numbers reflect investment by industry in talent with the requisite skills to drive the economic transformation.
I believe that a good expatriate contributes to business and economic activity, export growth, job creation and the transfer of knowledge and skills to our own citizens. Encouragement and assistance by the relevant authorities is imperative to place Malaysia on the world pedestal of economic and business growth.