Cambodian migrant workers in Malaysia are being saddled with exorbitant fees of up to $1,000 by travel agencies to renew their passports and to apply for visas, The Post has discovered – a practice that leaves them vulnerable to exploitation and potential run-ins with the law.
Sern Ith, an airplane equipment factory worker, said he renewed his passport in 2015 for about $700 with Malaysian agency Mashita Jaya, who he said claimed that they “did not charge any extra fees”.
Because the Cambodian Embassy in Kuala Lumpur does not provide passport renewals, only extensions, workers in Malaysia must go through agencies. For Ith, this meant paying more than one and a half times his $450 monthly salary.
“I don’t understand why our government … doesn’t try to help us by offering lower prices,” he said. He added that migrant workers from other countries, such as Myanmar, had to only pay about $50 for their passports.
A manager at Mashita Jaya declined to discuss prices yesterday before redirecting a reporter to another employee, who declined to comment. The Cambodian Foreign Ministry, meanwhile, could not be reached.
Several workers yesterday told The Post that they had to pay from $700 to more than $800 while earning between $400 and $450 a month in the country.
One of them is migrant worker Meas Sim, 27, who renewed his passport on May 16. On top of the $700 fee, he is expecting to have to pay an additional surcharge of $230 soon to register his new passport and provide a copy of his thumbprint to Malaysian police.
“If I don’t go to the police office . . . I may be put in jail if they find me,” he said. Sim makes $400 per month working in a garment factory.
But a representative of the Cambodian Embassy in Malaysia, who only identified himself as “Sath”, said a lack of machinery hampered their services. “We only extend passports . . . because we don’t have the machine to make the thumbprint scan,” he said.
Cambodian passports issued before 2014 can only be extended twice, for two years each time, after an initial three year period.
Glorene Das, executive director of Malaysian human rights organisation Tenaganita, said that she had heard of similar issues with work permits, which are regulated by the Malaysian government.
“The one that I have heard [about] . . . is the renewal of the work permit – which can be about the same amount – to allow them to work in Malaysia legally,” she said. The Malaysian Immigration Ministry declined to comment for this story.
Dy The Hoya, of labour rights group Central, said he had heard of cases where workers stayed in Malaysia illegally because of the renewal costs of passports.
Numerous reports have shown that undocumented migrants in Malaysia are prone to abuse. The Cambodian government this year lifted a six-year-old ban on travelling to the country to work as maids, which was imposed because of a raft of abuse and trafficking cases.
Another migrant worker, Chann Soviet, 42, came to Malaysia in 2009 with the help of a Cambodian agency called Filimor and Mashita Jaya. He said he didn’t have to pay for his new passport before leaving, but upon arrival about $70 of his approximately $110 monthly salary was deducted for more than a year by the agency to “compensate for expenses”.
“I struggled a lot at that time, as I didn’t have enough money to cover my daily expenses,” he said. Now eight years later, Soviet is facing similar problems, despite his salary increasing to $460 per month.
After having extended his passport twice, he had to apply for a new passport again last year. The charge: a lump sum of $700.