Minister of Science, Technology and Innovation Khairy Jamaluddin said last week that undocumented migrant workers in Malaysia would not be arrested when they receive their free Covid-19 vaccines from the government.
With about two million documented migrant workers in Malaysia and another one million to 3.5 million who are undocumented, this is a wise decision. After all, no one is safe until everyone is — and this has been the mantra in the fight against the coronavirus.
Various Covid-19 clusters in the country involve migrant worker communities. As such, it makes good sense to ensure they are vaccinated as most of them mingle freely with other communities because of work, as well as social and commercial activities.
More than that, as some quarters have suggested, the government should also take this opportunity to legalise some of these undocumented migrant workers to ensure they will come forward for vaccination without fear.
Offer them amnesty and the option of returning to their home countries or legalise those who want to remain and work in sectors that are facing an acute labour shortage.
Labour-intensive sectors such as plantation, construction and manufacturing have come to depend on migrant workers over the last few decades but since the outbreak of the pandemic, borders have closed and they have been banned from entering the country.
In addition, those who had left could not return, thus affecting productivity and output.
But to ensure the success of the vaccination rollout and amnesty programme for migrant workers, the various ministries concerned — namely the Ministry of Health, Home Ministry, Ministry of Human Resources and Khairy’s team — must work together. Remove hurdles that may prevent them and their employers from coming forward and get an updated database of migrant workers ready.