A cry for help from the Little Sisters of the Poor in Malaysia. *Attention: Muhyiddin Yassin! (Received via WhatsApp)

Please viral this one until someone in our Government sit up and do something about our sisters predicament.

LETTER | I represent the Little Sisters of the Poor in Malaysia as their honorary adviser. The home for the elderly is operated by the nuns of the Little Sisters of the Poor, the headquarter of the congregation is based in France. The nuns have been operating homes in 35 countries and in Malaysia since the 1960s.

There are two homes here with a total of 135 elderly residents, one home in Penang and the other in Kuala Lumpur. All our residents are elderly who have been neglected, no one to care for. Our mission is to offer care to the neediest elderly.

The work of caring is a full-time work that involves cleaning, bathing, feeding and attending to the bed-ridden elderly. We do not get local staff for caregivers and as such; we depend on nuns from the congregation. The nuns do not receive any monthly salary or allowances. They are volunteers who take the oath of office to serve the elderly.

Our greatest challenge has been obtaining immigration approval for the nuns. We were asked to register under the Immigration Department’s Expatriate Services Division (ESD) which is for expatriates. The primary function of ESD is to facilitate professionals employed in the corporate sector. But we adhered to this condition although we do not fall in that category.

The last few years we were obtaining visas for the nuns as expats and this was a great challenge as we could not conform to the salary category and other requirements that professionals can furnish.

Our attempts to obtain long-term visas under the “Religious” category have been declined many times by the authorities, citing many reasons. One of which is the immigration policy that only one person per religious house is allowed.

The ESD is only a 12-month visa approval. When we receive a nun as a caregiver and/or volunteer, we ought to be allowed to keep them at least three to five years. Getting yearly approval is both costly and time-consuming. Our attempts to obtain a long-term visa approval have been a herculean task.

We even wrote to deputy prime minister and her deputy as we are registered under the Welfare Department under the Ministry of Women, Family and Community Development. We have written numerous letters to both former and current immigration director-general, the home minister and his secretary-general to highlight our plight.

The nuns are only here to serve the elderly of Malaysian citizens who have been neglected by their own loved ones. One senior officer explained that the current policy under ESD categorises volunteers as social workers and thus they get only a 12-month visa. In our case, the nuns are volunteers but doing different kinds of work. A kind immigration officer explained that a “policy decision” by the Home Ministry is required.

Our contention is that, if people who are contributing to the economic development of the country are given permanent resident passes and “Malaysia My Second Home” visas, why can’t the Immigration Department devise a category for us? After all, these nuns are looking after the wellbeing of elderly Malaysians. The elderly have a right to dignified palliative care and last rites that we give them. We take care of the residents until their demise.

Why are we denying such rights to this category of Malaysians? We honestly cannot find Malaysians who will do the kind of work the nuns are doing. On top of that, they are not paid. We do not charge the residents. The home is operated by donations, contributions and also monthly collections done by the nuns in various Catholic churches in the country.

To make matters worse, since January this year, the Immigration Department has decided not to allow the extension (renewal) of our ESD passes. Now we are in a quandary as we cannot extend the current passes. In fact, a nun that was serving in our home in Penang since 2017 had to be sent back last month because we could not renew her visa.

We conform to the long-term plans of the Ministry of Women, Family and Community Development in caring for the elderly. As we approach an ageing population, this perennial problem will pose a great challenge to the government. Unless a comprehensive and cohesive plan is put in place, we will face severe consequences of caring for the elderly in our society.

We have written to Home Minister Muhyiddin Yassin for consideration of a policy decision to accommodate our request. The letter has been forwarded to the chief secretary of the Home Ministry and is now awaiting the ministry’s Immigration Division’s decision.

In the meantime, the extension process has been very difficult because Immigration refuses, asking first for feedback on the long-term policy from the ministry. Ministry officers are not cooperating to the request by the Immigration director-general for the extension. Only the ministry can advise the Immigration Department on what’s happening.

In this tug-of-war between government agencies, the victims are the nuns and the real victims are the Malaysian elderly who have been neglected by their families. We have even written to DAP members of Parliament but not one came to our assistance.

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