Expatriate nuns face Malaysian visa block when volunteering

Published:  2 Oct at 6 PM
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As immigration requirement toughen up in Southeast Asia, expatriate nuns volunteering in Malaysia are calling for special approval as regards visas.

Two homes for the needy elderly in Kuala Lumpur and Penang are staffed by volunteer nuns receiving no salary or allowances and sourced mainly from the worldwide Catholic congregation. Many are expatriates, and must apply for visas under the expatriate category even although their volunteer work doesn’t fall into a slot aimed at expat professionals in the corporate sector. Immigration authorisation is crucial for staffing the two care homes, but earning no salary and meeting other requirements has meant insecurity for volunteers who’ve taken an oath to help the needy, as visas are only valid for a year.

According to a representative of the Little Sisters of the Poor, getting visas is a huge challenge as it’s not allowed to be via the ‘Religious’ category, even although this has been requested more than once. The relevant immigration ruling allows just one person per religious house, but more are needed to look after the two care homes’ 136 elderly residents. The organisation has written to Malaysia’s deputy PM, describing the dilemma and asking for help, but no result was forthcoming. One senior officer explained the expatriate visas categorise volunteers under the social worker sector, entitling them to 12-month visas, but the volunteers do different types of work, requiring a special policy decision to be taken by Malaysia’s Home Ministry.

The position of the nuns on this issue is that expatriates able to benefit the country economically can get permanent residence visas under the country’s ‘Malaysia – my Second Home’ visa, but volunteer nuns who’re looking after abandoned elderly Malaysian citizens aren’t worth a special category. Malaysians, according to the nuns, are receiving dignified palliative care by the volunteer nuns, work which Malaysians are unwilling to take on.

The homes themselves are operated as charitable organisations and funded by donations as well as collections taken up at Catholic churches. The issue is worsening as, since January, extension visas are being denied, with one nun who’d already been volunteering for two years deported rather than having her visa extended. It seems the issue is the result of disagreements between government offices, with immigration taking the tough stance. The victims of the entire mess are the elderly Malaysians being cared for in the two homes, all of whom have been neglected by their families and now depend on the care received by the expatriate nuns who volunteer.
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