PUTRAJAYA - The Immigration Department has suspended processing applications from Bangladeshis wanting to study in Malaysia until its officers nationwide have checked all private colleges to ensure compliance with visa rulings.
But what it has found out now is that Bangladeshis comprise more than half the total number of students enrolled at certain colleges in the Klang Valley and are absent from classes 80 per cent of the time.
A total of 745 applications for student visas from Bangladesh have been pending since January.
Department enforcement director Datuk Ishak Mohamed said it was difficult to prove the students were working illegally and only a handful of arrests had been made.
Ishak said four colleges had been under close watch since the beginning of the year for having an unusually large number of Bangladeshi students.
They are Kolej Plaza International, Rima College, Kolej Region and Kolej Gemilang.
Of Kolej Plaza International's 410 students, 337 or 81.9 per cent were Bangladeshis, he said. Kolej Gemilang's Bangladeshi population was 83.7 per cent of total enrolment, Kolej Region had 63.5 per cent and Rima College had 56.6 per cent.
"We have found that the majority do not attend classes 80 per cent of the time.
"However, we are not accusing the colleges as we don't have proof yet. We have to catch the students actually at work and we do not have enough manpower for this.
"We have asked the management of the colleges to monitor their students and they have given us verbal assurances that they will," Ishak said.
Attempts to get immediate responses from the colleges failed.
The Bangladeshis, all of whom have valid student visas, were mainly enrolled in diploma and certificate-level courses in computer science, business administration, business management, marketing and intensive English.
Yesterday, Home Affairs Minister Datuk Seri Radzi Sheikh Ahmad said many Bangladeshis worked here illegally having masqueraded as students. Malaysia stopped recruiting labour from Bangladesh in 2002.
However, there is a loophole in a provision which allows foreign students to work a maximum of 20 hours a week during semester breaks.
They may only work at petrol stations, kiosk stands and in hotels and restaurants, though not as front-liners.
Bangladeshi students are allowed this provision, even though the country is no longer recognised as a source country for labour.
"Foreign students who want to work must apply to the Immigration Department with a letter of endorsement from their college here," Ishak said.
Bangladeshi workers banned from Malaysia because local women find them too attractive are apparently now being smuggled in as students.
The workers enter the country on student visas under the pretence of learning English, a news report and an official said on Monday.
The New Straits Times quoted Radzi Sheikh Ahmad, the home affairs minister as saying on Sunday that the Bangladeshis come as students, only to work in low-paid menial jobs in the country. Rising economic prosperity has provided many Malaysians with white-collar jobs and low-paid positions are hard to fill.
Saiful Islam, a spokesman for Radzi, said Bangladeshi workers were banned from Malaysia two years ago, mainly because they were creating "social problems" by entering into romantic liaisons with local women.
He told The Associated Press that they were found to have harassed young women and eloped with married women, who apparently succumbed to their good looks and charms.
On Sunday, Radzi said Bangladeshi men look like Indian movie stars.
Most of the men, aged between 25 and 30, were recorded as studying English, he said.
"This is really fishy. The age bracket is suitable for employment. Bangladesh is an English-speaking country and it makes little sense for them to study English here.
"The abuse is glaring because Bangladeshis are not allowed to work here, but we can see hundreds working in construction sites and restaurants."
Radzi said most were brought by agents who made deals with colleges to bring in the workers as students, then place them for employment. He said his ministry was taking the necessary action to curb the practice.
He said: "I can assure you there are thousands of them. Of course, Malaysia is striving to be an education hub but abuse of provisions is something that cannot he tolerated."
The newspaper quoted Radzi as saying that at least two private colleges had enrolled more than 300 Bangladeshi nationals each, comprising more than half their international student body.
Malaysia allows foreign workers from only a few countries, including Indonesia, India, the Philippines and Sri Lanka.