PUTRAJAYA, Malaysia - Malaysia plans to hire 169,000 foreign workers to overcome an acute labor shortage after a crackdown on illegal migrants, it was learned Tuesday.
Under a revolving-door immigration policy, Malaysia recently shooed out 382,000 illegal foreign workers, most of them Indonesians who left under a four-month amnesty against prosecution, and promised to let them return if they applied for work visas.
Malaysia's ties with Indonesia were strained by the crackdown and by a dispute over a maritime border that the neighbors have decided to settle through talks.
Deputy Prime Minister Najib Razak told reporters only 11,000 Indonesians had returned so far.
"We have approved an intake of 75,000 to enable more Indonesians to return," he said in Malaysia's administrative capital, Putrajaya. "This is on top of an intake of 94,000 approved earlier.
"We hope the Indonesian authorities will take note of this and hope they will send their workers as soon as possible," he said, adding the Indonesians would be exempted from induction courses that are usually mandatory ahead of employment.
Malaysia has blamed Indonesian red tape and processing fees for an administrative bottleneck.
Positions not taken up by Indonesian workers could be filled with workers from other Asian countries, such as India, Myanmar, Nepal, Pakistan and Vietnam, officials said.
With a population of 25 million, Malaysia is already home to 1.5 million legal foreign workers, 1 million Indonesians among them. As many as 400,000 illegal workers remain in the country.
Malaysia has arrested 4,200 illegal migrants since the sweep began on March 1, Najib said. They face a fine and jail, and men younger than 50 may also be whipped.
Malaysia relies on foreign unskilled labor to do dirty, poorly paid work that locals shun, but the numerous illegal workers cause government a fiscal and administrative headache, since they pay no tax and live in unregulated shanty towns.
The growing shortage of workers has hit a range of industries, from construction to plantations, as well as many small businesses, such as restaurants and telephone kiosks.
Najib said Malaysia's move to diversify its sources of labor was not politically motivated.
"We are being practical. We require the workers and are giving every avenue to Indonesia to supply their workers but at the same time we have to source from other countries," he said.
"Please don't give it a political overtone."