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The World Bank states it is extremely difficult to keep track of the current Malaysian diaspora widely spread out.
Growing Malaysian diaspora is weakening the nation
By Raphael Wong

Malaysians have seen a lot of changes since the 13th general election in 2013. The heating up of the political climate is accompanied by evolving social and economic trends. Many issues have contributed to these changes such as the dispute over the use of the word Allah as well as the introduction of the Goods and Services Tax this April.

These uncertainties are clearly reflected in a Merdeka Centre’s poll conducted in March last year, where 49% of the 1,005 respondents felt that the country was heading in the wrong direction as opposed to 38% who thought we were on the right path.

According to the poll, the main worry of the public is related to the economy with 61% of respondents of the view that it was the main issue. Second was issues concerning crime (11%) while racial issues and politics stood equally at 5%.

Among the economic issues cited for the country heading in the wrong direction were the high cost of living and inflation as well as the unfavourable economic conditions in general. The other issues included poor national administration, political instability corruption issues and poor economic management.

The unhappiness over these issues resulted in Malaysians seeking greener pastures elsewhere.

According a report by an Australian journal, one of the major beneficiaries of the increasing number of highly skilled professionals leaving Malaysia is Australia. Over 100,000 Malaysians had migrated to that country in 2000.

Australia is home to the second largest Malaysian expatriate community in the world with New Zealand and the UK catching up as well. Singapore has the largest.

The exodus of Malaysians has even prompted the World Bank to publish a detailed report in 2011 on the diaspora and brain drain from Malaysia.

The World Bank stated that while it was extremely difficult to keep track of the current Malaysian diaspora that had been widely spread out, it used previous data and took into account the most recent trends. From these, it estimated that at least 800,000 and up to 1.4 million Malaysians were living overseas.

More than a third of them are over 25 years old, which the World Bank termed as Malaysian citizens who were contributing to countries other than their own.

Due to its close proximity, it is no surprise that Singapore houses the most Malaysians abroad. According to the Malaysian Association in Singapore, the numbers run into the hundreds of thousands residing, working or studying in the island republic. “Add to that list the number of people of Malaysian origins who have laid down roots permanently in Singapore, the total is even more substantial,” it said.

The World Bank’s report corroborates this. Data obtained from the Department of Statistics of Singapore show that there are about 691,000 Malaysians residing in Singapore five years ago, with approximately a fifth of them having tertiary education qualifications.

However, data are not available on the country’s 1.3 million non-residents or migrants in Singapore, many of whom are presumably Malaysian. Since Singapore is the main destination for Malaysian migrants, it is difficult to provide a complete picture of the skilled Malaysian diaspora at this time.

The three main reasons for the brain drain identified by the World Bank are career prospects, social injustice as well as salary and benefits.

Calling this an “intense brain drain problem”, the World Bank said it could hurt Malaysia’s ambition of becoming a high-income economy by 2020.

The outflow of high-skilled professionals is instead replaced with an influx of low-skilled migrants looking for work in the construction, plantation and manufacturing sectors.

A 45-year-old managing director of an F&B chain in Singapore tells The Heat Online that despite the hectic lifestyle, the island republic has become his home. Born and raised in Ipoh, he left his hometown at the age of 19. He draws a monthly salary of S$12,000 (RM32,588) currently. “I have contemplated coming back to the country to work but the highest offer I received wasn’t even half of what I am being paid now. So it really doesn’t make sense for me to come back,” he says.

Malaysians residing in Singapore are helping to strengthen the Singapore dollar against the ringgit. Over the last 10 years, the Singapore dollar has increased by 20% from RM2.28 in June 2005 to RM2.72 on June 2, 2015.

If the issues raised by the Merdeka Centre’s poll stay unaddressed by the current administration, the Malaysian diaspora will continue to grow.  The estimated 6.7 million foreign workers, majority of whom are illegal, entering the country would not be able to make up for the number of Malaysians leaving the country.