In September, Malaysian mothers were overjoyed when the High Court ruled in favour of automatically conferring citizenship to their children born to foreign national fathers. This joy was shortlived as the government appealed the decision less than a week later.
This has deeply affected many mothers throughout the country who has been quietly fighting for their children to receive the due recognition they deserve as rightful citizens of the country.
By virtue of being born overseas, children of Malaysian mothers may be treated as foreigners if their fathers are non-Malaysians. This is due to Article 14(1) (b), Part II, Second Schedule of the Federal Constitution, which expressly provides citizenship to children born overseas in wedlock to Malaysian fathers but is silent on children born overseas to Malaysian mothers.
Here are the stories of two Sabahan mothers who are affected by this appeal.
Leanne is a Sabahan mother of 2 kids, both of whom were born in Abu Dhabi when she was still working in a 5-star hotel there. Her husband is Indonesian, who was also working in the same hotel when they met.
They got married in the Embassy of Malaysia while still living and working in Abu Dhabi in 2008. The thought about nationality of their children had never crossed her mind, as she took for granted that there would be no problem for her as a Malaysian to pass on her citizenship to her children.
When their first child was born in 2010, her husband brought all the required documents to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in United Arab Emirates (UAE) to get it stamped, and then took these papers to the Indonesian embassy to obtain a passport and dependent visa for the child. This process must be completed within 3 months of a child’s birth.
Leanne was advised to apply for the Malaysian citizenship for the child before he turns 1 year old. She was informed by the Malaysian Embassy that the law has changed as Article 15(2) was introduced. “Don’t lose this opportunity,” she was told. “When he turns 18, he can choose his nationality.”
“Back then, we didn’t have plans to return to Malaysia,” Leanne said. “We liked living in UAE so much, that I didn’t think it would be a problem even if my son wasn’t a Malaysian citizen”.
He was subsequently conferred a citizenship, 2 years later. However, they still had to spend extra thousands of ringgit to change his passport to ensure that he is registered as a Sabahan, as denoted in the passport by the letter “H” preceding the serial numbers, and not “A”. This will ensure that he is able to freely enter Sabah.
A year after her son received his citizenship, Leanne’s daughter was born. Having gone through the process before for her son, Leanne had no issues about applying for her daughter’s citizenship. However, this time, she received no acknowledgement that her application has been received.
Unfazed, each year she would call the National Registration Department to ask for an update on the application.
“For four years, they would always respond to me that the documents are in process,” she said.
The family returned to Sabah for good in 2017.
After four years of not receiving a proper response to the citizenship application, she became worried and called the department again. She had a rude shock when she was asked to verify the name of her child that she was asking for an update on. She was informed that the application for her daughter’s citizenship does not exist in the system.
“All this time, they were following up on my son’s citizenship!”
Forced to reapply for citizenship
Realising the urgency, Leanne then flew to Putrajaya with her daughter, who was then 4 years old with the hope of settling this issue directly. She brought along the photocopies of all the forms she had previously submitted as proof.
Upon arrival, she was made to wait for a long time, only to be told that they have been searching for her for 4 years.
To make the long story short, she had to start the application process all over again in March 2017. By May, they gave her a reference number from the Home Ministry. It wasn’t good news – they were still processing a backlog of applications from 2013, the same year that her daughter was born!
Prevented from receiving subsidies
As a non-Malaysian, her daughter is still able to go to a local government school. However, she is unable to get many of the privileges that are offered only to Malaysians, such as free vaccinations. As a “foreigner”, she has to pay RM300 at a government clinic for each of the mandatory shots. Leanne’s daughter is also not eligible for book loans, or even the free items such as stationery and school shoes provided by a government body.
As a non-Malaysian, she is not eligible for government clinic or hospital visits that usually costs citizens just RM1. And while Leanne’s husband, who was on a spouse visa, could get a COVID-19 swab from a government facility and be charged just RM 1, her daughter was not entitled to the same benefit.
Enrolling to school is a hassle
To ensure Leanne’s daughter has a place in the government school every year, Leanne needs to make an annual trip to the Education and Immigration department and apply for a student pass. Each year, she needs to fill up 4 forms by hand, have the documents certified as true copy, and pay stamp duty.
She estimates that she spends around RM300 in total each year to complete the process to apply for her daughter’s student pass, which includes transportation fees to get from one department to the other.
Leanne says that this process makes mothers in her position anxious, especially if they are enrolling their child for the first year. “You worry all the time whether your child will even have a place in the school,” she says.
Mei Mei’s Story
Mei Mei is married to a Korean man and their child was born in 2010. In 2011, they decided to come back to Malaysia when the child was just 10 months old. According to Mei Mei, she was informed by the Malaysian Embassy to return to Malaysia to apply for the child’s citizenship.
They applied in 2011 and have been waiting for their son’s citizenship to be approved ever since.
“We were rejected one time, and then we had to apply again”, said Mei Mei. “We have been waiting for about 10 years now.”
Since then, Mei Mei has had to return to the Immigration office every six months to submit 3 forms to renew a social visit pass – Visa Anak Kepada Warganegara, or a visa for a child to a citizen, for her son.
Mei Mei feels that this visa is more secure than the student pass, which links to the school that the pass is issued to.
“The Visa Anak Kepada Warganegara is usually for children up to the age of 7, after which the child should apply for the student pass. But what if the school closes or if my son doesn’t go to any schools? In this case, the visa is more stable – he is protected by me, the mother. A student pass is linked to the school,” she said.
Mei Mei has been advised to apply for a Permanent Resident (PR) pass for her son, as he is approaching 12 years old.
Education & medical worries
Mei Mei’s son is currently home-schooled, but she is sending him to learning centres as well in preparation for him to be enrolled into secondary school. The learning centres will provide report cards to help assess his readiness to be admitted into secondary school.
“But we are also worried that the school will charge us a foreigner fee. We really hope that the school can accept this visa and give him a local price, as we did not apply for a student pass. He has a Malaysian mother after all,” she said.
Just like Leanne, she laments the cost of medical care for her child. “Every day I pray that my son will not get seriously infected or injured. No surgery, no operation, nothing that requires intensive care. Otherwise, we just don’t know how we can afford it.”
Visa renewal every 6 months
“I have to bring my child with me to the Immigration department and pay RM120 each time,” says Mei Mei. “The last 3 times I went there, I was told to make my son wait outside. This is to limit the number of people inside, due to the pandemic”
Mei Mei is not comfortable doing so, because her child will be alone outside as the husband is caring for the younger child.
“What if I’m is a single mom? Or if we have a few kids that all need to be cared for?” she asks.
All the documents that Mei Mei has submitted before has to be submitted again each time she renews the visa. These documents must be certified as true copies, and only those that are certified and dated recently will be accepted.
The challenges of renewing a pass is made even worse due to the pandemic, as Leanne and Mei Mei needs to check all available dates to make appointments to go to all the respective departments and complete the required documentation.
“Go find out everything that is required before coming. Get the latest information, because they keep changing,” advises Mei Mei.
Worries about the future
Mei Mei and Leanne both worry about the future of their children should they fail to get their citizenships.
“I don’t know what will happen to him if he turns 18 or 21. Will he need to apply for PR, or will he be deported?” questions Mei Mei.
“It’s hard to think about the possible family separation due to this issue when my daughter turns 18,” says Leanne. “I want her to be able to come to Malaysia, not as a stranger.
“To have the choice to choose either one, not just stuck with one. I’m surprised the government isn’t thinking ahead, to diversify the people and talents. We should be forward thinking, thinking about “wow, Malaysia is so lucky to have these children representing Malaysia.” Let’s not wait until these children win a Nobel prize and only then claim that the mother is Malaysian.”
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