The Malaysian government has clarified reports that it had entered into an agreement with Bangladesh to bring in 1.5 million workers into the country over the next three years.
Human Resources Minister Richard Riot held a press conference on Friday (Feb 19) to clarify the issue.
"The figure of 1.5 million Bangladesh workers is actually the number of workers registered with the Government of Bangladesh through the Ministry of Expatriates' welfare and Overseas Employment for the purpose of employment to 139 countries in the world, including Malaysia, Singapore, UAE and Saudi Arabia," he said. "The perception that 1.5 million workers will be brought in from Bangladesh to Malaysia to work is not true."
Later on Friday, Deputy Prime Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi told a crowd in Kuching that the government was placing a freeze on all foreign workers.
Last week, reports emerged alleging that the Malaysian government would be entering into an agreement with the Bangladeshi government to bring in 1.5 million foreign workers into the country over three years.
This sparked uproar by groups worried about the impact such a move would have on the local labour market and questioning the government's motives for doing so. Some more extreme reactions came from NGOs linking foreign workers to disease and rape.
Officially, Malaysia has 2.1 million registered migrant workers – 282,287 of whom are Bangladeshi.
But the government estimates there are an additional 1.7 million undocumented foreign workers – using the estimate of seven undocumented workers for every 10 legal foreign workers.
Before the announcement by Mr Ahmad Zahidi, Mr Riot told reporters that the government was taking care to regulate the number of migrant workers according to demand from employers, capping the number at 15 percent of the total workforce or 2.3 million foreign workers in a total workforce of 15.3 million.
"Any recruitment of Bangladesh workers shall be in accordance with Malaysia's policy, which is based on actual demand of employers from the various sectors that are allowed to hire foreign workers subject to the principle of demand and supply," he said in a statement to the the media.