Illegal Immigrant Workers: Good or Bad thing?

There has been some press lately over the 'extension' to the amnesty granted to illegal foreign workers. Although the newspapers are filled with statements from the government, very little has been written (as far as I can see) about why the government may be not serious about kicking out illegals. Anyway, how did this all come about?

The truth is, if all illegal immigrants left at the same time, large sectors of the service and construction industry would grind to a halt. It's not uncommon these days to order somethig in a mamak stall and discover that the waiter doesn't speak Malay, but is instead memorising phrases which are repeated to the kitchen. I'm particular sometimes about what I order ("kuah dhal satu, campur dengan kuah kari ikan sikit"), so I do get other people coming back to me to check what I said.

It's easy to take advantage of the low wages that the illegals are willing to work for. In a sense, it fuels the local economy by keeping costs low and subsequently increasing demand. A part-timer at KFC or McDonalds makes RM4 an hour plus meals. Just imagine what a construction worker or mamak shop backroom cook would be making.

In fact, illegal workers aren't really a problem if they're working.

It's not necessarily a bad thing. The problem stems from the increasing education and expectation of the general public. Someone who has been to University isn't going to be happy with a menial job. In short, an increasing reliance on lower-income foreign workers is an indicator of the standard of living of the average citizen.

The problems begin when there isn't enough work to do and many of these immigrants find themselves out of a job. In order to survive, they need to turn to an alternative means of income, some of them possibly illegal.

So, if we take an increased demand to mean a good thing, then a decreased demand for foreign workers may mean a bad thing: that the economy isn't as strong as before.

Of course, when you have a surplus, the easiest way to solve it is to get rid of the surplus, to ship them back from where they came from.

Therefore, it is in the country's interest to be lax allowing illegal workers in, so it's easier to get rid of them later.
posted on Monday, February 07, 2005 - permalink
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