Immigration control biggest concern among Malaysians

This article first appeared in The Edge Financial Daily, on December 6, 2017.
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KUALA LUMPUR: Immigration control (specifically the immigration of foreign workers), governance in relation to government, corporate conduct, and unemployment are the three top worries keeping Malaysians up at night, according to a survey.

The “What Worries Malaysia” survey was conducted for the first time by global market research agency Ipsos, based on the firm’s “What Worries the World” global study that is published monthly. The study was conducted among 2,027 consumers aged 15 to 64 years old across Malaysia.

Ipsos’ global study cited immigration control as the 10th biggest worry among 21,044 adults in 26 countries, including the US, China, India, Britain and Australia, questioned from August to September, but it emerged as the top concern of the Malaysian survey participants.

Ipsos Business Consulting’s country head for Malaysia, Singapore and the Philippines, Kiranjit Singh, said the immigration control concern in Malaysia did not stem from xenophobic tendencies towards foreigners.

“It has nothing to do with racism or xenophobia but it has to do with economics,” said Kiranjit. “If you look at the people who are most concerned about uncontrolled foreign workers and so on, it is correlated with unemployment.

“The same people who are worried about unemployment are to some extent worried about the influx of foreign workers [in the country],” he told a news conference yesterday in conjunction with the release of the report.

Based on previous Ipsos studies, there is a correlation between the concern of immigration control and unemployment. When the unemployment rate goes up, the concern of uncontrolled immigration tends to rise as well.

As of June 30, there were 1.78 million legal foreign workers in the country, according to the home affairs ministry. However, the number of undocumented workers in the country is unknown.

The unemployment rate in Malaysia stood at 3.4% as of September, data from the statistics department showed. This was an improvement from September 2016 when the unemployment rate was at 3.5%.

Ipsos’ public affairs director Arun Menon said households with income below RM3,000 were the most worried about the immigration of foreign workers.

“Malays and those living in rural areas were the two other groups most concerned about immigration control,” he said.

The survey showed that households with income of less than RM1,000, females and students had the highest reported level of worry in terms of unemployment. Three other groups most concerned about unemployment were the Malays, those who are single and those aged between 15 years old and 24 years old.

“This is partly related to foreign workers [taking up the jobs] as well as a concern [among graduates] that they are not getting the job that fit their aspirations, needs and lifestyle,” said Menon.

As for good governance and corporate conduct, this was a concern among the urban high income groups in Malaysia.

“Basically the concern of this group was [whether] their money was spent in the most efficient manner, [both by the public and private sector], the good governance aspect was also one of the main concerns expressed by middle-class Malaysian Chinese,” said Kiranjit.

The release of the Malaysian study coincides with the launch of the Ipsos public affairs division in Malaysia that specialises in research on public policy issues and the attitudes and behaviours of citizens and consumers. Ipsos conducts the global study on a monthly basis.

Meanwhile, the most recent “What Worries the World” study conducted by Ipsos showed that the three biggest worries globally are unemployment, governance, and poverty and social inequality.