Apr 10, 2004

Malaysia beckons foreign retirees

By Carrie Chan

HONG KONG - Malaysia has revamped its foreigner-retirement program, loosening restrictions in an effort to lure retirees to the Southeast Asia country.
Under the "Malaysia - My Second Home" program, which was launched about a month ago, Kuala Lumpur welcomes foreign citizens to enter the country on a long-stay social visit pass. This program is open to all categories of citizens with no age limit, who are allowed to bring along one maid and their dependants, of school age or not.
The initiative is not the first of its kind. "Silver Hair" kicked off much earlier, in 1987, targeted at retirees aged above 65. But there were few takers because of the program's narrow limitations. As a result, the government revised the terms and came up with the new program.
The newly unveiled program no longer caps the age of an applicant, though the terms vary according to the age of the candidate. Those over 50 must possess a fixed deposit in a Malaysian bank of US$26,300 or a fixed monthly income of not less than $1,840, while those below 50 must meet both requirements concurrently.
Successful applicants will be issued a social visit pass for a duration of five years, together with a renewable multiple-entry visa (MEV). On expiration, they can apply for renewal of their MEVs or permanent citizenship. The authorities will make decisions based on the status of their stay in the country.
In an exclusive interview with Asia Times Online, Abd Aziz Harun, Malaysian consul general in Hong Kong, said Kuala Lumpur's primary purpose is to invite people from other countries to share in the ethnic and cultural diversity of Malaysia.
"We Malays are not greedy people and we do not want to pull money from investors' pockets," he said. "Our country is a harmonic society embracing many different nationals. We only want to invite people from all over the world to share our experiences and enjoy our unique features and style. We hope they can become our friends and bring us new connections."
The word "connections" says it all. Connections, especially foreign ones in the business circle, introduce many opportunities and trading partners to the country, as the consul admitted. In 2003 alone, foreign businesses contributed $8 billion in investment to the Malaysian economy, equivalent to 45 percent of total domestic investment.
Aziz believes that the new program has certain attractions for Hong Kongers because of the convenient geography and the living environment in Malaysia. "The program is named on the consideration that Malaysia is just three hours 15 minutes' flight from Hong Kong. In Malaysia, many people work in Kuala Lumpur. But they still drive more than five hours home on festivals and even two-day holidays, which takes much longer than a Hong Kong-Malaysia flight," he said.
Some nationalities, including permanent Hong Kong residents, already enjoy convenient entry to Malaysia, and are permitted to apply for a one-month tourist visa on arrival. But the social visit pass issued under the new program allows a longer stay. The holder may also apply for a mortgage for up to 60 percent of the property's price, he or she qualifies for the same tax rates of native citizens on auto purchase and, most important, may apply for permanent residency.
To date, the Malaysian Immigration Department has received some 250 enquiries and 10 applications. Although the government has not unveiled any plan to extend the program to mainland China residents, some perceive China as a potential market.
In fact, the immigration program holds more charms to mainlanders than to Hong Kong people, who already can enter Malaysia with an easily obtainable tourist visa. A mainland applicant has to go through cumbersome legal procedures to obtain a visa of a very limited duration, and current regulations prohibit entry by Chinese nationals from other countries. Also, with its low financial threshold of US$26,300 (HK$210,000), the program seems designed to whet the appetite of corrupt bureaucrats wanting to leave China with their swollen pockets intact.
Aziz reiterated, "Malaysia has never thought of competing against other countries, and this program is not designed for money. The requirement of HK$210,000 is only a guarantee of self-support. As a matter of fact, I think the threshold is rational and the required investment is not a big sum. That's because the program does not grant permanent resident status, but only a visa of a five-year duration [during which] the holder can live a Malaysian life."

Parent site: "Focus on Malaysia"