Malaysia Home Minister on PR and Citizenship applications

Malaysia Home Minister on PR and Citizenship applications

 In a wide-ranging interview with Sunday Star at his office on Tuesday, Hisham­muddin says: “Whatever I’ve done, I’ve always given it my best. I’ve never known any other way.’’

It is clear as the interview progresses that Hishammuddin, a trained barrister, is quickly adapting to the breadth and depth of the ministry which oversees 40 statutes.

To the media, the 48-year-old son of the country’s third Prime Minister has some friendly advice. “No spin, play it straight,” he says, before breaking into a smile.

On citizenship, PR and birth registration applications

> How are you going to process 35,000 citizenship applications before the year-end?

It is important that we put these issues into the context of the present accountability and governance structure. For example, on the issue of crime and public safety, this has been made a national KRA which is driven by the PM himself with me as the lead minister. When we talk about the issue of citizenship, PR, late registration of birth and also review of the ISA, we are referring to my own KPI, the minister’s KPI.

For the record, as of Jan 1, 2009, there were 32,927 citizenship, 16,812 PR and 93,360 late registration of birth certificate applications pending. These are applications which have yet to be processed and decided upon. The ministry has set up a dedicated taskforce to look at expediting and resolving this backlog, with some applications dating back to 1997! Part of this effort involves speeding up interviews of applicants. For example, for the outstanding citizenship applications, 5,110 applicants have been called for interviews since July 9 but 1,700 applicants have failed to turn up.

I have been made accountable to resolve all outstanding applications as of Jan 1, 2009, and we have so far processed more than 50% of the applications. Careful consideration and thorough study is needed for each and every application; I countercheck and sign off on all the recommendations made. But I have set a deadline that must be met. Everybody is working really hard.

> There is concern that if you are going to steamroll the applications, the rejection rate is going to be high.

There are very strict regulations that leave no room for personal views. There are cases that need to go through interview processes. The guidelines are very clear and the officers are not going to steamroll the applications. This is my promise. Anyone rejected can still appeal against the rejection.

> As the minister, do you have much flexibility when it comes to granting citizenship?

All applications are screened by the National Registration Department and I act based on their recommendations. However, there is no appeal case for citizenship provided under the Federal Constitution. Those whose applications have been rejected can make a new application to the National Registration Department. Citizenship is very serious business and everything must be looked into extensively. First and foremost, you must be qualified and have met the set criteria, otherwise there will be no approval.

There are also grey area cases, such as individuals who have resided here for ages and contributed immensely to the nation, have no other place to call home, have family and interests here and yet fail to secure their citizenship due to little faults or technicalities. How do we treat these kinds of cases? This is why I have stressed on the need for a balance in decision-making, whereby while process and procedure should be adhered to, it is also important to view and assess applications within these grey areas on a case-by-case basis. In subjective areas such as these, a one size fits all approach cannot apply all the time. This is where I normally intervene and have the final say.

> What are the main reasons behind citizenship applications being rejected? Letters usually just state sukacita/dukacita di maklumkan (regret/pleased to announce).

There are many reasons for rejections. Issues of patriotism, how much they really want it, how it affects security as a whole, and to what extent the application is motivated by mere financial and economic considerations. As far as I am concerned, the main thing is the security factor as well as one’s love and sense of loyalty towards the country. Knowledge of the national language is also important, as is respect for the country’s institutions such as the monarchy.

> PR applications are fairly straightforward, so why the backlog?

Actually it is not that straightforward. Don’t forget too that after obtaining PR, there are still some criteria which are required for citizenship. It is a big leap from PR status to citizenship so it can never be fully straightforward or automatic. It is the case in all countries.

> Can your ministry define the rules for foreign spouses of Malaysians wanting to apply for PR or citizenship, as the feedback is that there are no clear guidelines?

There are actually very clear guidelines. In fact, we also have a booklet outlining all the guidelines for both male and female spouses. For instance, female foreign spouses who have been holding PR status for not less than two years can apply for citizenship under Article 15(1) of the Federal Constitution. For male foreign spouses, they have to go through the normal procedure of applying for PR status first. If they need more information or are not certain of the processes, they can contact the ministry. Also, the criteria is posted on the ministry’s website (http://www.moha.gov.my).

> On spouses of Malaysians seeking PR or citizenship, do wives get more sympathy?

This is very subjective. Each marriage has to be viewed based on its own merits. You only see one side of the story. Let me tell you that there are many, many cases of dubious spouses seeking PR – marriages of convenience, so to speak. We admit it is not a foolproof system and sometimes there are leakages. But we are doing our utmost to plug the leakages and ensure that only the deserving cases are approved. So it is not a case of female spouses taking precedence over male spouses. The foreign spouse will still have to go through the necessary criteria to qualify for PR or citizenship status.

> Here’s a real case example:

A 34-year-old Indian national marries a Malaysian man here in 1999. The woman has since lived here and the couple have two children born here. After six years, she applies for PR status but there is no word from the Immigration Department. Does this woman deserve to be considered favourably?

I am not in a position to comment on individual cases. However, the fundamental issue which concerns me is the fact that she has been left in the dark with regard the status of her application for so long. If what you say is true, these kind of inefficiencies, which have a direct bearing on the status of an individual besides breeding possibilities for abuse, cannot and will not be tolerated. That is why, besides the resolution of outstanding citizenship applications, I have also included the resolution of outstanding PR applications as another deliverable under my minister KPI. As per the PM’s announcement during his 100-day anniversary, the resolution of all outstanding PR applications will be done by the end of the year.

> Can you do away with some of the requirements needed before a birth certificate can be issued to a “stateless” Malay­sian? There are now five tedious processes to undergo before a decision can be made.

We are in the midst of reviewing the process. We do not want children to be victims of their parents’ ignorance or crimes. At the same time, we must be extremely judicious and careful on how we handle each and every case. The final aim is always clear – to provide the best solution that is justifiable and fair in the given circumstances. It is on these grounds as well that I have included the resolution of backlog in applications of late registration of birth certificates as part of my minister KPI.

> What about those born here and holding red ICs? This group is still a significant number.

There are several categories for red IC holders. There are children born in Malaysia but who hold passports of their parents’ country of origin. They are living in Malaysia on a long-term basis.

Then there are foreign children who have been adopted by Malaysian citizens or PR holders. And then there are those who had their citizenship revoked but are classified under Article 26 whereby the Government grants them PR status.

There are also other categories such as stateless children who are given green ICs. We are compiling all these statistics and hope to address this backlog soon.

Sunday Star

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