A new system has been in place since February 2013 for students entering the country to obtain student passes through a company called Education Malaysia Global Services (EMGS) as well as the Malaysian Immigration Department.
Travel plans are now being put on hold and safety concerns are soaring for students as they are reportedly having trouble retrieving passports sent for processing back from EMGS and the Immigration department.
The delay in passport returns has resulted in much frustration from students and universities alike, especially after the processing fee for the new system has been raised to over RM1000 for most international students. Previously, processing fees for foreign students varied, depending on the country they came from. For example, Australians paid RM60 to get their paperwork done.
EMGS, which was purportedly set up to efficiently process foreign student visas says they are not to blame for the current situation of the passports.
‘We have set timelines and clear procedures in place to ensure a smooth and timely issuance of approvals and passes to applicants,’ EMGS representative Rajvinder Singh Dhaliwal said.
‘EMGS has been working towards Immigration officers being stationed in EMGS premises to make this process quicker. However that change is yet to be implemented.’
‘Until such a change is implemented we submit these passports to immigration for endorsement on behalf of the student.’
Students must obtain a Single Entry Visa from the Malaysian embassy or High Commisson in their home country before their arrival. However EMGS says many students come on a normal social visa, which can complicate the process.
‘EMGS advises students to obtain the correct visa before they enter to avoid this delay but we often still have to process passports with this problem’.
However, there are reportedly still many international students across Malaysian universities who have obtained a Single Entry Visa correctly and are outraged at the EMGS’ lack of timeliness, and have taken action to get some answers.
Students bemoan ‘ridiculous measures’
One such student, Georgie O’Neill, had trouble with her Australian passport since July 26th, when she submitted it to her university. She had to cancel her travel plans back to Australia to see her family as her passport was only given back to her on Oct 11.
‘The only solution for me to be able to travel and see my parents and not have wasted their money is to get an emergency passport which is a ridiculous measure to have to take,’ says Georgie, a Monash University student.
‘We’ve also been told our money will not be refunded unless we make a direct complaint to the Prime Ministers office, and then maybe we will,’ she said.
What also makes the situation more troubling is the fact that these students would be studying illegally in the country until their passports return from EMGS and the Immigration Department, since the pass is only valid for around three months when they arrive in Malaysia.
Another international student studying at Monash University, Natasha Surya, says she had to cancel her trip to her Indonesia for her cousin’s wedding.
‘I haven’t received my passport since the last time I submitted it [July 19th], and they [EMGS] gave me neither the exact nor approximate time when I would get my passport back,’ Natasha said.
‘It has been four months in total and I wonder when I will get my passport back.’
Natasha also claims EMGS blamed her for late submission, when she had actually handed in her passport at the required time of six weeks before.
‘Overall, my experience with EMGS and passport handling has been very disappointing,’ she said.
Immigration Department silent
On the other hand, EMGS told Yahoo Malaysia that ‘we cannot see how this would be a direct result of EMGS’ because they have not changed the process for sticking on the student pass sticker which must be present on all international student passports, once it has been given the all-clear by Immigration.
Yahoo Malaysia contacted the Immigration department several times; even trying to get in touch with Director-General Alias Ahmad, but our calls were unanswered.
A student and international student passport assistant at Sunway University Malaysia, Sasria Pratiwi, is not sure who to blame after her passport was missing for six months with no-one to clarify where it was.
‘I don’t know who is to blame…immigration, EMGS or our universities. When I asked EMGS they said our university was to late to submit it, while Sunway said it was not their mistake.’
‘I got into contact with EMGS to push forward my visa. They said they had already sent an email to Sunway but didn’t get any reply,’ she said.
Indonesian Embassy ‘shocked’
The hoo-ha has caused a lot of strife with other Indonesian students in similar situations whom Sasria has tried to help by informing the Embassy of the Republic of Indonesia about the visa problems.
‘Of course our Embassy was shocked with this situation and asked why they didn’t notify us earlier…the Embassy asked me to find out if there were other students who have a problem like me.’
‘I try to help other students with this problem, but I can’t guarantee it [passport] will be finished as soon as possible,’ Sasria says.
EMGS says the students’ long wait also has to do with the increase of up to 2% in the numbers of students being approved to study in Malaysia since EMGS took over.
They have also said they haven’t changed any existing processes, adding that they could not say when a student’s passport would be returned once it is in the hands of immigration.
‘We are liaising with universities in relation to individual cases as required’, said Rajvinder.
‘EMGS and the Immigration Department, together with other government stakeholders are working very closely to identify the root causes of delays and address them,’ Rajvinder said.
We tried getting in touch with the international student services and immigration departments in certain universities, but they all wanted to remain anonymous because ‘it has become a political issue’.
While some students have finally received their stickered passports, many others are still anxiously waiting and not sure when it will be returned to them.