Protecting the welfare of families with parents of different nationalities

I’m a British citizen, living in Malaysia and have been married for nearly ten years to a Malaysian citizen. I have a stepson and a daughter both of whom hold Malaysian passports and my daughter is also eligible to have a British passport (however, Malaysia does not recognize dual citizenship so she would eventually have to choose one or the other).

For a long time, my wife and I have mulled over the pros and cons of staying in Malaysia or moving to live in the UK.

There are lots of factors to consider but one of the big ones is the ease of obtaining the necessary visas for family members.

At present it is fairly easy as three of us are allowed to live here and only I have to obtain a long term visa to live and work in Malaysia (the work part is essential as I am the sole earner at present).

Moving to the UK would be a little more complicated. My daughter and I could both live there without a visa, but my wife would require a visa and my stepson if he came with us would also need one.

From what research I have done it seems to me that:

  • The UK has a much more complicated process for obtaining the necessary visas
  • The UK charges a lot of money for the application process
  • Once you have the ‘spouse visa’ there is a pretty clear path to eventual permanent residence and even citizenship in the UK

In contrast in Malaysia:

  • The spouse visa is not too hard to obtain, is reasonable in cost terms and does allow work although adding the working status is a further hurdle to overcome but certainly possible
  • Permanent Residence is extremely hard to obtain and there are no clear rules on what the requirements are so there is guesswork to try to prepare for the application
  • Obtaining citizenship is almost unheard of in Malaysia

So, the issue is that countries do not treat each other’s citizens equally in this regard.

I recently joined a Facebook group called “Foreign Spouses of Malaysian Citizens” and this has been a fascinating experience as it became clear that some countries even apply different rules depending on where you come from.

The Facebook group has been a great source of support to people in this situation regardless of which country they originally come from. The people that started the page have even suggested that there ought to be an NGO that helps people with these issues.

My question is whether this is something that could be championed by Liberal organisations worldwide, or even perhaps by a global NGO that proposes policy harmonization among different countries with respect to the rules and treatment of families who have parents from different countries.

Improvement can be made on both sides of this situation, for example:

  1. In the UK the cost and administrative burden of obtaining spouse visa and permanent residence are still very high. It is also very unfair that UK spouses have to have a minimum income before they can bring their foreign spouse to the UK.
  2. In Malaysia, it would be much better if spouse visa holders are automatically allowed to work (either self-employed or for an employer) and it would be much better if the path to permanent residence was clearly set out and achievable within a reasonable time frame.

These are just a couple of examples of areas that could be addressed by a suitable NGO or by Liberal organisations around the world. I am sure there are many more examples as each country’s policies in this area are examined.

* John Shardlow is a member of the Lib Dems Overseas Executive Committee.

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  • Very interesting article John. I don’t however see any pressing case for harmonisation. Why can’t British people decide what’s best for their country and vice versa?

  • At the very least, once you have had a child with a foreign spouse the rules should be eased and visa expense capped at a low level. Getting UK visas is mostly box ticking by the civil servants so long as you have the paperwork and a covering letter that fully explains your situation (in language a five year old child can understand), plus loadsa dosh to exclude people from using the welfare system. Not sure, given massive overcrowding and impending bankruptcy of the govn, if we should be encouraging immigration, though.

  • John Shardlow 20th May '20 - 6:08am

    Thanks Gary – I guess with Harmonization what I’m suggesting is that countries treat each others citizens similarly – not necessarily that all countries treat each other the same. So it’s a negotiation between the diplomats of the countries. At present I don’t think this is really on anyone’s radar.

  • Reunite Families is concerned about those married couples separated by visa rules

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