An Open Letter to the Malaysian Tourism Minister

Dear Mr. Nazri Aziz,

I am writing this post as an open letter with the express hope that it will be circulated widely enough to reach you.

At the outset, let me state that I am writing this as a friend and well-wisher of Malaysia, a country I have visited at least 10 times since 1986. Allow me also to say that I write in the hope that this letter will be treated as constructive feedback and not criticism.

I visit Malaysia often because I have close friends staying there – friends who are really family because we have traversed life together through school, college, working life, marriages, births and deaths of beloved parents.

This time I planned a visit to Malaysia to help out and attend the wedding of my friends’ son. A wedding requires a great deal of work and so, I planned a 3-month stay. I should also mention that I and my friends had planned to travel around South-East Asia using Kuala Lumpur as a base.

Accordingly, I applied for a multiple-entry 1-year visa; something I had been granted by Malaysia on previous occasions. It is also important I mention here that I am currently on my 4th passport since I have had occasion to travel widely around the world for professional and leisure purposes. Countries I have visited include America, Australia, Canada, Cambodia, England, France, Hong Kong, Nepal, Singapore, Switzerland and Thailand.

So, you can imagine my shock and distress when I was faced with hostile immigration officers at KLIA (2) each time I exited Malaysia and returned on this trip.

I am listing below the chronological sequence of events so that you are able to get a full understanding. I would request your patience in going through this lengthy narration but believe me, it is important that you do so.

  • I applied and obtained a 6-month, multiple entry visa from Mumbai, India. I should mention here that the visa was granted only after I managed to get through to the Malaysian embassy, establish my credentials and explain the purpose of my request. I was lucky. I would imagine that most travellers would not have been able to speak to someone at the Malaysian embassy what with the entire visa process being outsourced these days.
  • As it turned out, the 6-month, multiple-entry visa did not mean much at all because I repeatedly faced issues with Malaysian Immigration in Kuala Lumpur.
  • On entry into Malaysia on June 7th, 2015, I was given a 30-day stay.
  • My original plan was to travel around South-East Asia post my friend’s son wedding on August 1st . However, since I was told that only a 30-day stay could be permitted, my friend and I arranged to visit Krabi presuming that re-entry would not be an issue with a 6-month, multiple-entry visa.
  • We were wrong. On return from Krabi, the immigration officer gave me a hard time but at the end of it, stamped my passport with another 30-day stay. I must mention here that this immigration officer was intolerably rude and not interested in hearing any explanation. But at least she stamped my passport, allowing me re-entry.
  • Respecting the laws of the land, and since we had planned to travel anyway, we arranged a short trip to Yogyakarta on Air Asia on August 6th. 
  • On return from Yogyakarta, the immigration refused to give me clearance asking me to go to the Immigration office at Putrajaya.
  • Within 48 hours, I went to Putrajaya and without any questions, they stamped my passport with a Social Pass for another 30 days. Here, I would like to point out that the immigration personnel hardly speak English well, making it difficult for travellers to communicate. In my case, the person had to repeatedly refer to another officer in the back office. The people at Putrajaya were polite enough but the point is they were unable to grasp the fact that I needed a multiple-entry visa to be endorsed. More shockingly, I was told that it was entirely up to the Airport Immigration. If that was the case, why was I asked to go to Putrajaya at all?
  • All Putrajaya did was to give me a Social Pass for another 30 days. However, this Pass does not allow for multiple entry placing me (and my friend) in a very difficult situation as we were booked to travel to Bali on Air Asia Go on August 15th for a 4-night holiday.
  • As things stood, we were forced to cancel our Bali vacation, leading to a loss of some 3000 Malaysian Ringgit. The bookings were on Air Asia Go for flight + hotel for 2 people.
  • Totally fed up and upset with the whole situation, I brought forward my return to India from August 31st to August 22nd as I had no wish to continue my stay in Malaysia.

Mr. Aziz, I am a law-abiding citizen and fully understand that every country has a right to secure its borders. Having said that, I must say that I am taken aback by the fact that Malaysian Immigration was not even interested in giving me a hearing.

Nothing made a difference. Not my visiting card. Not the fact that I am a hobbyist travel writer. Not even a heavily traveled passport with a 10-year valid US visa and a 2-year Singapore visa. Nothing seemed to matter!

Fact is not one of the Immigration Officers was even interested in looking at my papers or listening to me. 

The question that arises after such a traumatic visit to Malaysia is simple.

With such a stringent, play-by-the-rule-book, no-exception policy, how will any traveller intending to use Malaysia as base camp to travel around the region be able to do so?

The other question I have is why aren’t tourists told that they can stay in Malaysia for only 30-days and anything above that will be treated as overstaying their welcome?

Three more questions.

I am hoping that this letter will serve as feedback and result in better communication to travellers on the limits of their welcome. For, had I known that Malaysia has tightened up its immigration policy to this extent, I would have never planned for such a long trip.

Lastly, so that you understand the case better, do allow me to present my credentials.

I am an Advertising & Marketing professional with over 3 decades of experience spanning companies such as Jet Airways, Lintas (now Lowe), and Sterling Holiday Resorts (a Fairfax/Thomas Cook company). In my varied career, I have also held the position of Managing Editor of The Smart Manager, a management magazine.

The only other fact that might interest you is that I am also a hobbyist writer with my own blog site – Lata Wonders. Here are some links to travel blogs I have written:

Blues Away (On my holiday in Australia; originally published in JetWings International).

Krabi: The Sword of Peace (written post my visit to Krabi).

Borobudur – A Mountain of Combined Virtues and Prambanan – The Evoking of Universal Consciousness (post my trip to Yogyakarta).

The Earl’s Secret (a post on a delightful hotel in Ooty).

You can also view my LinkedIn profile on https://in.linkedin.com/pub/lata-subramanian/b/64b/a46

I trust i have been able to successfully establish that Malaysian Immigration had absolutely no cause to treat me with the suspicion they did.

If they continue on this trajectory, I would suggest to you that you remove the phrase ENDLESS HOSPITALITY from your latest TV commercial promoting Malaysia.

Yours sincerely,

Lata Subramanian.

Letter to the Malaysian Tourism Minister Mohamed Nazri Abdul Aziz with a cc to the Minister of Home Affairs Dato’ Sri Dr Ahmad Zahid Hamidi.

Author’s Note: This is to request fellow travel and other blogger friends to please share this post so that this reaches the right authorities in Malaysia and serves as a cautionary tale for travellers planning a trip. 


 

Featured Cover Image Credit: Closed Doors – Image by Lata Subramanian.  

 

 

 


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