What’s wrong with being a pendatang? As a Chinese Malaysian, I’m a proud pendatang – if that refers to being a descendant of immigrants. The term has grown so toxic over years that we, including and especially the Chinese, seem to have forgotten how much immigrants have historically contributed to this country.
We are wracked by fears of being overrun by foreign workers a la Banglasia. We accuse Bangladeshis, Indonesians, Filipinos, Nepalese, and more of stealing our jobs, depressing our wages, and polluting our culture. But that’s as untrue now as it was a century ago when people with my skin color arrived on Malaysian shores, seeking a better life for themselves and their families.
You would expect Pakatan, the self-styled progressive alternative to BN, to get this. Sadly not. Pakatan officials have regularly raised hell over the number of foreign workers in Malaysia, blaming them for low and stagnant wages among locals. It’s a cynical ploy for votes right out of Donald Trump’s playbook. But like America’s orange monster-in-chief, Pakatan is dead wrong.
A World Bank analysis found that immigration actually raises the wages of Malaysians, not the other way around. Foreign workers also boost real GDP growth, and create jobs for locals: “For every 10 new immigrant workers in a given state and sector, up to five new jobs may be created for Malaysians in that state and sector, two of them female,” the bank said.
If immigration is such a boon, why should anyone look to kill the proverbial goose that laid the golden egg? Let’s not forget that foreign labor plays a crucial role in keeping both business costs and consumer prices low. Are we willing to pay more – much, much more – for our roti canai and milo ais just because we want Bangladeshi waiters out of the country?
Yes, there is an immigration crisis in this country, but it isn’t what you think. We don’t have too many foreign workers – we have too few. Indeed, in a February piece ominously titled “Asia’s looming labour shortage”, The Economist identified Malaysia as one of the countries that needs more working immigrants.
It’s easy to see why. Only last month, The Star reported that mamak restaurants were suffering from a crippling shortage in manpower. Some had to close down. Many others were forced to implement ‘self-service’ or even to stop serving certain dishes. Ever wondered why it’s nigh impossible to get a roti canai or thosai for lunch these days? Alas, this burgeoning problem isn’t just restricted to restaurants.
As The Star revealed in January, the lack of foreign workers also hurt productivity on farms. With less meat and vegetables on sale and still plenty of demand, prices have gone up – it’s only basic economics. Here’s the point: We can either complain about the prices of basic food items, or complain about the number of foreign workers – we can’t do both. Someone needs to drill that into Pakatan’s head.
Like it or not, our comfort and our way of life are made possible by pendatangs. So, it’s baffling to hear many Malaysians describe foreign workers as some kind of virulent plague. It’s stranger still to hear such xenophobic rhetoric from my fellow Chinese Malaysians. Reminder: We were immigrants once. We didn’t like it when others treated us like foreign parasites, did we?
As for me, I love pendatangs of all races, religions, and countries of origin. I see them as a national treasure, and the key to our present prosperity and future survival. I can safely say I’m a better person than Donald Trump. Can Pakatan? Can you?