Panicked expats fly home for passports

Mohiuddin with his old passport at the passport office in Agargaon. He flew home from Malaysia just to get a machine readable passport. 

Fearing he would lose his job in Malaysia, Mohiuddin flew to Dhaka just to get a machine readable passport (MRP), an expensive trip for a migrant worker but he had to because of government mismanagement.

Mohiuddin works at a plastic factory in Kelantan province of Malaysia and he blamed none but the government for not ensuring the new passports for about seven lakh Bangladeshi expatriates living in Malaysia.

“My job at the Chinese company was threatened when the management in November last year told me that I must have a digital passport [MRP] for extension of my work permit,” he told The Daily Star at Agargaon passport office.

The young man from Munshiganj got scared as only a handful of migrant workers were getting the new passports in Malaysia and that too months after filing the application.

The old passport he was carrying was valid only until January 31 this year.

“I did not take any risks and decided to come home and get my digital passport [MRP],” said Mohiuddin who flew to Dhaka in November and applied for MRP in the first week of December.

Although he faced many hurdles in getting his MRP on January 29, he was happy having it in his hand. “It is a huge relief for me. My job is now secured,” said Mohiuddin as he flew back to Malaysia the very next day.

Mohiuddin is not alone. As many as five lakh Bangladeshis in all over Malaysia are facing this dilemma over MRP.

Even in the plastic factory where Mohiuddin works, there were many Bangladeshis still with old passports that needed to be converted into MRP.

“Scared of losing their jobs, a few more are also planning to come home to get the MRP while the rest have left their fate to an uncertain future,” Mohiuddin said.

He appealed to the government to take the MRP matter seriously so that all expatriates get the new passports before the ICAO deadline expires on November 24.

Over the last few months, many others like Mohiuddin came home, spent their hard-earned money paying for airfare and went back to Malaysia with MRPs.

Shajahan works for a construction firm in Penang, 300km away from Kuala Lumpur.

“There was assurance of getting MRP from Penang or Kuala Lumpur as many workers were enrolled but only a few got the new passports. Hundreds other are yet to be enrolled for MRP,” he told The Daily Star over phone on January 20.

The uncertainty forced him to come home as he needed the MRP before his old passport expired on January 1.

“I came home in November and managed to get my digital passport [MRP] from Agargaon passport office on December 15,” Shajahan added.

Mohiuddin and Shahjahan have secured their jobs but Farhad Hossain had not. Many others become “undocumented” workers. They might end up losing their precious jobs for not getting passports on time.

Farhad applied for MRP in October with a scheduled delivery on December 15 last year. As of March 15, he had not gotten his passport, compelling him to get his old passport renewed from the Bangladesh mission in Kuala Lumpur.

“I had no other option but to stay here as a legal migrant worker,” he told The Daily Star.

The renewal of his old passport was not a permanent solution. He must obtain an MRP before the deadline or risk losing his job and face deportation.

“Nearly 40,000 Bangladeshi migrants had become undocumented in the last several months for not getting MRPs,” said an official at Kuala Lumpur mission.

Contacted over the phone, mission’s first secretary (consular services) Moslema Naznin said, “Since the outsourcing Malaysian company [IRIS] is failing to enrol [expatriates] and give MRP, we are renewing the old hand-written passports of the workers for the sake of saving their jobs. But this is not a solution.”

Officials at Bangladesh missions in Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) said a good number of the migrant workers had visited Bangladesh and got their MRPs over the last several months to avoid becoming illegal aliens.


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