The Immigration Department has suspended the controversial foreign workers visa processing system and biometric health checks, which were outsourced to a private firm that has come under the spotlight because of its directors who are closely linked to Putrajaya.
The suspension comes just two weeks after the Foreign Workers Centralised Management System (FWCMS) and biometric health checks came into effect.
The FWCMS and biometric health checks had been criticised by foreign employment agency operators who had threatened to stop sending workers to Malaysia.
Operators complained of the drastic hike in fees, from RM15 to RM250 under the FWCMS, which Putrajaya outsourced to private company Bestinet Sdn Bhd.
In a circular dated January 26 sighted by The Malaysian Insider, the Immigration Department said that both modules were suspended with immediate effect and visa applications for migrant workers would be done over the counter as was the practice before.
"The BioMedical and eVDR (FWCMS) which came into effect on January 15, 2015, will be suspended with immediate effect," the circular stated.
"In relation to that, visa applications with references at immigration counters now will go on as usual."
The circular was signed by the department's foreign workers division director Farah Adura Hamidi, who confirmed the directive.
She told The Malaysian Insider that the directive to suspend the usage of both the systems had come from the Home Ministry but declined to elaborate further.
"The Immigration Department is the implementer, while the one who makes the policy is the government. So we received this directive from them (the Home Ministry) and we just acted on it," she said.
The FWCMS is a website handled by Bestinet which will also handle applications for foreign worker quotas, their electronic temporary working permits (ePLKS), and insurance, among others.
All health check-up centres in the source countries, where the workers are from, are also compelled to use the Bestinet system.
The contracts for the FWCMS and biometric health checks were awarded to Bestinet, a private IT firm whose directors include former home minister Tan Sri Azmi Khalid and previous director of the Labour Department Datuk Tengku Omar Tengku Bot.
Critics, including foreign governments, have blasted the biometric system, citing added costs and security concerns over worker information.
PKR's Sungai Petani MP Datuk Johari Abdul and Youth information chief Lee Chean Chung raised concerns over the monopoly of the system, saying that the information stored was related to border control and immigration, which was sensitive and could threaten the security and sovereignty of the country.
They also gave several deadlines to Home Minister Datuk Seri Dr Ahmad Zahid Hamidi to answer how and why the contract for these services were awarded to Bestinet.
"Bestinet not only will make huge profits through monopolising the eVDR and biometric system, the company will also cause the increase in cost to hire foreign workers.
"When the increase in cost is not monitored, it will expose foreign workers to risks of exploitation and human trafficking," Johari and Lee had said.
Countries such as Nepal and Indonesia, which send hundreds of migrant workers to Malaysia daily had expressed concern that workers would have to pay extra costs and had yet to give their final approval for the system.
Recruitment companies in Nepal declared that they would halt sending new workers to Malaysia until the Nepalese government makes a final decision.
Bernama reported that Nepal's Parliament had told its government not to implement the biometric health test system.
Its parliamentary committee on international relations and labour headed by lawmaker Prabhu Saha made a unanimous decision opposing the biometric health checks for Nepalese workers.
The committee urged the government not to enforce the system without first studying its impact.
"The committee has told the government not to enforce biometric health tests for Nepalese wishing to work in Malaysia," Saha was quoted as saying.
"The system does not appear appropriate and justified at present in the absence of such facilities in Nepal. This would result in further financial burden on our workers," Saha said.
More than 100,000 Nepalese workers left for Malaysia in the first five months of the current fiscal year 2014/2015. An estimated 750,000 Nepalese are currently working in Malaysia, the Bernama report said.
Indonesian employment agencies were also reported as saying that the exorbitant fees were a huge burden to their countrymen who are looking to either work or study in Malaysia and also threatened to stop sending workers to Malaysia.
They said that Malaysia should have discussed the matter with the Indonesian government prior to the implementation of the new system, adding that it was a form of exploitation of their citizens.
Indonesia and Nepal make up a large proportion of migrant workers who come to Malaysia to work in sectors such as housemaids, manufacturing, construction, plantation and others.
The biometric system was introduced to prevent fraudulent medical reporting and the Immigration Department has said that it would be implemented in stages beginning with workers from Nepal and Bangladesh. – January 30, 2015.