KUALA LUMPUR, Nov 2 — Do you have a grandparent or parent aged at least 67 — older than Malaysia — who was born here and lived all their lives here, but is not recognised as a Malaysian even if their children and other family members are citizens?
There are many reasons why there are those who were born in Malaysia — even before Malaya’s independence in 1957 — are still not Malaysians officially and do not have the Malaysian identity card (IC), also called MyKad.
At the same time, they are also stateless as they are not citizens of any country in the world.
Development of Human Resources for Rural Areas (DHRRA), a non-governmental organisation that has helped thousands of stateless individuals, previously said that these pre-Merdeka persons include those living in remote plantations who lacked awareness of the importance of registering their marriages and their children’s birth to get the legal documents required to secure the Malaysian citizenship that they are entitled to.
Until today, there are still pre-Merdeka persons with outstanding applications to the Malaysian government to be recognised as Malaysians, typically under either Article 16 or Article 19 of the Federal Constitution, depending on their circumstances.
Yes, the Federal Constitution even has a citizenship provision (Article 16) that is dedicated to those born here before Merdeka. Article 19 enables citizenship by naturalisation (which is not a route limited only to those born before Merdeka).
How many pre-Merdeka individuals are still without Malaysian citizenship?
For a sense of how big the scale of this ongoing problem is, we turn to the Home Ministry’s replies in the Parliament.
The Home Ministry in a November 15, 2016 written Dewan Rakyat reply said the National Registration Department (NRD) received 10,888 applications under Article 16 from 2000 to September 30, 2016, and with 7,422 awarded citizenship under Article 16 during the same period of about 16 years.
On June 26 this year, the Home Ministry said 1,232 citizenship applications under Article 16 from those born here pre-Merdeka were received from 2018 to June 15, 2023.
This October 23, the Home Ministry in a written Dewan Rakyat reply said NRD had between 2019 and September 25, 2023 received 350 applications under Article 19 from those who were born before Merdeka, and that it had rejected 63 of these applications, while 286 of these are still being processed. (The reply was specifically responding to a question on pre-Merdeka applicants under Article 19 and did not include the total number of Article 19 applicants.)
Good news, finally?
Last Wednesday, Home Minister Datuk Seri Saifuddin Nasution Ismail announced that the security vetting process period for citizenship applications has been reduced from 73 days to 14 days.
Saifuddin said the security vetting process could be cut short following the introduction of an integrated security vetting system, where the NRD would no longer have to physically submit citizenship application documents to the police and could submit those documents online.
But DHRRA last week immediately stepped in to clear up the confusion, where some in the public mistakenly thought that Saifuddin’s announcement meant those applying for Malaysian citizenship could see their applications approved within 14 days.
DHRRA clarified that the security vetting is just part of the entire process of applying for citizenship, and that security vetting only kicks in for three types of citizenship applications under the Federal Constitution: Article 15(1) for Malaysian men’s foreign wives, Article 16 for those born here before Merdeka, and Article 19 for citizenship by naturalisation.
DHRRA said Article 15(1) and Article 16 citizenship applications are processed at the NRD level and can be decided by the NRD director-general, while Article 19 applications are processed at the Home Ministry level and would be decided by the home minister himself.
DHRRA said the security screening for these applications would be shortened to 14 days under the new integrated system between the NRD and police.
DHRRA said the shorter security vetting time is a “good progress towards an efficient system”.
“It will benefit Article 16 (pre-independence context), Article 15(1) (foreign spouses to Malaysian men) and Article 19 (naturalisation). We definitely hope those stateless cases within Article 16 and 19 can be accelerated.
“However, we recognise the government has not established a statelessness determination procedure (SDP), therefore we are not sure if the government has the ability to prioritise vulnerable persons who have lived in the country since pre-independence and their birth,” DHRRA told Malay Mail recently.
At the same time, DHRRA said the shorter security screening does not address the plight of stateless children — with genuine ties to Malaysia and Malaysians — who apply for Malaysian citizenship under Article 15A of the Federal Constitution, as security screening is not required for their cases.
Babies born at Hospital Kuala Lumpur on Merdeka Day are seen in this August 31, 2012 file photograph. — Picture by Razak Ghazali
But why is security screening by the police needed?
The short answer is, because that is how the government is applying the Federal Constitution’s requirements for those applying for citizenship under Article 15(1), Article 16 and Article 19.
Or more precisely, the requirement to be of “good character” before the Malaysian government accepts your application to be a citizen.
Article 15(1) requires a non-Malaysian woman (married to a Malaysian) to have lived in Malaysia throughout the two years before applying for Malaysian citizenship and intending to live here permanently, and also requires her to be of “good character”.
Article 16 requires a person born in Malaysia before Merdeka Day to have lived here — for a minimum of five years — within a seven-year period immediately before applying for citizenship and intending to live permanently in Malaysia; to have “elementary knowledge” of the Malay language; and to be of “good character” .
Article 19 requires a person aged at least 21 and applying to be a naturalised Malaysian to have lived in Malaysia — for a minimum of 10 years — within the 12-year period immediately before applying, and having the intent to live here permanently; to have “adequate knowledge” of the Malay language; and to be of “good character”.
Here’s what the government itself said about these requirements, based on an October 24, 2019 written parliamentary reply by the home minister in the Dewan Rakyat to Paya Besar MP Mohd Shahar Abdullah.
In that reply, the home minister cited the same requirement of “berkelakuan baik yang dinilai melalui tapisan keselamatan oleh Polis DiRaja Malaysia (PDRM)” (good conduct as assessed through security vetting by the Royal Malaysia Police) for citizenship applications under Article 15(1), Article 16 and Article 19.
Just one piece of the puzzle
If enduring the years of waiting to know whether you would be recognised as a Malaysian citizen is like piecing a jigsaw puzzle, then getting past the security screening will only be just one small piece of the puzzle.
This is because there are multiple other steps before one can have a chance at succeeding in applying for citizenship under Article 15(1), Article 16 or Article 19.
When asked by Malay Mail, DHRRA cited the on-the-ground experiences of its community paralegals — who directly assist stateless persons like pre-Merdeka individuals with their citizenship applications — to explain how the process works.
Even before anyone can submit a citizenship application under Article 15(1), Article 16 and Article 19, they would have to first apply to the NRD to be recognised as a permanent resident of Malaysia and get a MyPR card.
Those applying under Article 15(1) and Article 19 must first apply to the Immigration Department for an entry permit before they can apply to the NRD for PR status and MyPR card. Article 16 applicants would not need to obtain an entry permit.
All these above processes could by itself take years to bear fruit.
According to DHRRA’s information from the community paralegals, those who apply for citizenship under Article 15(1), Article 16 and Article 19 are not the ones applying for or submitting a certificate of good conduct by the police to support their citizenship application.
It would instead be an internal process, where NRD would do the security vetting with the police for those in the Article 15(1) and Article 16 categories without having to forward the matter to the Home Ministry, while NRD would forward the citizenship applications under Article 19 to the Home Ministry (KDN) and the ministry would be the one handling the security vetting, DHRRA said.
“The screening is conducted by NRD for Article 15(1) and Article 16, whereas for Article 19, it is done by KDN. The applicant does not do it by themselves and neither will the police contact them,” DHRAA told Malay Mail, based on its community paralegals’ experience.
Apart from the security screening process, citizenship applicants under these categories (Article 16 and Article 19) also have to pass the Malay language test and fulfil all other requirements.
When asked by Malay Mail how long every step of the entire citizenship application process would take, DHRRA said it does not have a breakdown of the length of time for each step but added: “We hope if the security screening has been cut short, it should result in shorter processing.”
Currently, for Article 15(1) and Article 16 applications which are processed at the NRD level, DHRAA said: “Based on DHRRA Malaysia's experience, the fastest processing period is one year but at times, it may take up to three years”.
As for Article 19 applications which are submitted at the NRD but processed at the Home Ministry, DHRRA said: “From our experience, it takes more than four years to get a result.”