It has long been known that a significant number of non-Malays have migrated to other countries in search of more opportunities and a better life.
Names like Jimmy Choo, Tsai Ming-Liang, Kwen Liew, Zang Toi, Yuna, Bernard Chandran, Tan Hock Eng, Ng Yi-Ren, James Wan, Pua Khein-Seng and Penny Wong come up, just to name a few successful expatriate Malaysians.
In addition, there are thousands of expatriate Malaysians running or holding key positions in companies in Hong Kong, Singapore, Thailand, Vietnam, Australia, and even the US.
Current statistics of the brain drain from Malaysia are difficult to come by, as it is a sensitive issue. What we do know is that the brain drain slightly decreased from 2016, and dramatically dropped when Pakatan Harapan won government in 2018 and the Covid restrictions began in 2020. However, recent media reports indicate that Malaysia’s brain drain is increasing at the rate of 6% per annum once again.
If one talks to members of the Malaysian diaspora in Australia, New Zealand, the US and Britain, there is a significant number of Malays exiting Malaysia to migrate to other countries.
Back in 2007, controversy erupted when then deputy home affairs minister Tan Chai Ho released statistics showing that out of 107,000 Malaysians who had renounced their citizenship since independence, 79,000 were Malays.
Three decades ago, those Malays who went overseas and did not return were those who either married a local when they were studying overseas, or got a job offer they could not refuse.
However, this demographic is different today with whole families migrating abroad, based on reports by local Malay community organisations assisting these families to settle into their new country.
The author has spoken to a number of Malays who migrated abroad to find their reasons for doing so. All mentioned the better economic opportunities, higher salaries, better education systems, and better quality of life for them and their families.
However, many also talked about not being able to freely express themselves in Malaysia, and the need to socially and intellectually comply with the prevailing narratives, rituals and codes set by society.
Many Malays, who are Muslims, object to being told how they should practise Islam. These Malays are not disinterested in Islam, they have a passion for the religion, as indicated by their active participation at local mosques and religious schools in their new country. They just want to practise Islam how they believe Islam should be practised.
Many went on to complain about the political situation, which some said was “hopeless”. They reject elitism, saying things like “there are more Datuks at the market in the morning than there are apples for sale”. They turn to the society they are living in now and say, “here nobody cares about position and titles like back home”.
Professionals and, in particular, academics, said that nepotism and favouritism within the workplace prevented hardworking, honest and high-achievers from rising in their careers. They complained their bosses were more like politicians than academics or professionals.
The corporate culture in Malaysia stifled creativity and the ability to express ideas freely. Work tended to be orientated around achieving the personal agendas of bosses who wanted to rise in their own careers. Those who could not conform to this culture were often bullied.
Malay entrepreneurs complained about the bureaucracy in Malaysia and difficulty in getting the necessary licences to operate, and claim it is much easier to do business in countries like Australia and New Zealand.
Malay art entrepreneurs in London and Amsterdam spoke of the inability to freely express themselves within the arts and entertainment industries in Malaysia as well as LGBT issues.
All the above reasons run contrary to the narrative that Malays are attracted to other countries due to the pull of better opportunities, where the grass seems to be greener. In contrast, most reasons given by Malay migrants indicate push factors that influence them to seek an alternative future outside of Malaysia.
Although some of these push factors are structural issues, like low wage rates, which are difficult to remedy in the short term, issues such as meritocracy in the workplace can be changed with a strong will by Malaysia’s political leadership.
Other reasons given, the repressiveness of society in general and restrictions in practising Islam, indicates some dissatisfaction with the way Malaysian society is heading.
A major migration agent in Kuala Lumpur said there is an increasing number of Malays seeking migration visas to Australia, so that they can be ready to exit the country, should they feel the need. According to this migration agent, 15% of migrant visa applications to Australia are from Malays.
Currently, 15% of 64,000 visa overstayers in Australia are Malaysians. Although there is no statistical breakup in Australian statistics, members of Malay associations in Australia admit that a number of members are overstayers.
Today, there are more than 2 million Malaysians abroad. It is too easy to associate the brain drain with discrimination against non-Malays and an environment that prevents equality of opportunity. However, many of them are Malays who have felt strongly enough to leave.
Consequently, Malaysia is now losing some of its best Malay doctors, engineers, scientists, university professors and other professionals due to the environment Malaysia’s leadership has created in the country.
Source : FMT