Malaysian mums want dual citizenship, not just one for their kids

By Boo Su-Lyn

KUALA LUMPUR, April 28 — Not all Malaysian mothers are keen on getting just the country's citizenship for their foreign-born child, dealing a blow to a recent move by the Home Ministry in this issue.

Home Minister Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Hussein had announced early this month that his ministry will implement a new regulation enabling Malaysian women married to foreigners to get citizenship for their children born overseas.

The current regulation is citizenship is only for children born to Malaysian men anywhere in the world.

British-based Dr Yow Hong Yeen said that obtaining Malaysian citizenship for her son born four years ago in the UK, was not really an issue that arose for her as Malaysia does not allow dual citizenship.

“His father is British therefore he also needs his British heritage. Given that fact, and that we live here, I would not give up his British citizenship in order for him to become Malaysian,” said Dr Yow in an email interview recently.

“However, if he were allowed dual citizenship then I would definitely like him to be both, as part of his heritage,” added the 33-year-old Malaysian doctor specialising in geriatric medicine.

Malaysia does not allow citizens to hold dual citizenship. The UK, however, allows people to obtain British citizenship without requiring them to give up their present nationality.

Dr Yow censured the Home Ministry’s move to make administrative changes without changing the laws on citizenship, saying “As far as I’m concerned, it’s just a “look good” announcement.”

“Fact remains that the law is patriarchal and archaic (though even if it wasn't it still wouldn't make any difference as the fundamental problem is one of dual citizenship),” she added in the email.

“In this day and age of the UN and multiple other global political and economic alliances, I think Malaysia should seriously consider changing the law about dual citizenship... the country stands to gain a lot in terms of people mobility for the better (think about brain drain, retaining its relationships with people with some Malaysian heritage who may in the long run have something to contribute to the economic and cultural diversity growth of the country etc...),” explained Dr Yow.

Meenakshi Subramaniam, a 30-year-old knowledge transfer specialist at Cisco Systems in India, concurred with Dr Yow, saying that she would like dual citizenship for her daughter if the Malaysian and Indian governments permitted it.

Seeing that both governments currently prohibit dual citizenships, Meenakshi said that it was better for her daughter to be an Indian citizen due to the fact that her husband is Indian and they currently live in India.

“As my husband is an Indian and we are currently living in India, for all practical purposes it is better for my daughter to be an Indian citizen,” she told The Malaysian Insider in an email interview.

Malaysia-born Meenakshi, who has studied and grown up in India for most of her life, said, “I will opt for Malaysian citizenship for my daughter and for my next child if it is easy for my husband to get a PR and we are able to live in Malaysia without the hassle of worrying about his visa...I have been told (getting a PR) is not easy in Malaysia.”

However, Marina Abdul Manan, who is currently residing in Malaysia, paints a different picture of the citizenship issue.

The 48-year-old personal assistant had been living in Pakistan for 17 years from 1983 to 2000. After marrying a Pakistani man in 1985, she specially returned to Malaysia one year later to give birth so that her child would get Malaysian citizenship.

“When I was pregnant, I decided I should come back to Malaysia and deliver my child in Malaysia. Then he can get Malaysian citizenship. That way I won’t lose my kid,” said Marina in a phone interview recently.

“I’ve seen my friends lose their kids because they can’t bring their kids back to Malaysia,” Marina clarified. “I don’t want to leave my child with a man who’s a foreigner.”

When asked how she viewed the recent Home Minister’s move in allowing Malaysian mothers to get Malaysian citizenship for their children born overseas, Marina was full of approval.

“I think it’s a good thing that the minister is looking into this matter. It’ll help a lot of women who stay abroad,” she said.

In response to that fact that the Home Ministry had no plans to amend existing laws and that the move was solely an administrative change, Marina said that it did not matter.

Article 14(1)(b) and (c) in the Federal Constitution state that citizenship can be conferred to children born overseas only if their fathers are Malaysian.

“They don’t have to change the law,” commented Marina. “They (Malaysian mothers) can still have the right of having their kid as Malaysian. I think it’s fair in that way.”

However, non-governmental organisations (NGOs) Tenaganita and Women’s Aid Organisation (WAO) have slammed the Home Ministry’s decision to avoid amending the sexist clause in the Federal Constitution.

“As a long-time commitment to equality, the law has to be amended,” stressed Tenaganita director Irene Fernandez. “Today he (Hishammuddin) can say that. Tomorrow, another minister, and he can say something else.”

“We want something that rights are guaranteed, and that’s what is fundamental,” Irene told The Malaysian Insider in a phone interview.

WAO executive director Ivy Josiah concurred with Irene and asserted the ultimate need to amend the Federal Constitution.

“This is not the answer to ensuring equality as guaranteed in Article 8 (of the Federal Constitution). So within the Constitution there are contradictions.”

Article 8 of the Federal Constitution prohibits gender discrimination.

“There should be a guarantee in the law. Citizenship is an inherent right of every mother or every father to confer citizenship to their child,” Ivy said in a phone interview recently.

"We do not want to leave it to discretion.”

Patty Cham, a 27-year-old Malaysian IT professional who is currently residing in Australia with her Australian husband, agreed with Ivy.

“Without changing the Malaysia (sic) laws, the next home ministers could just flip this decision and it’s no guarantee what they are saying will come to pass,” she said in an email interview.

“I do not have much faith in the process when it’s going to be administrative work only...if you ask 10 officers in the government department on how to go about registering, you’ll get 10 different answers or somewhat wrong answers,” she concluded.

Shirley Philips (not her real name), a 52-year-old Malaysian training consultant who is struggling to pay exorbitant international fees for her eldest son of British nationality, was full of cynicism for the Home Minister’s announcement.

“To me, it’s a lie,” she told The Malaysian Insider today. “They can’t even consider my children who have been staying here (Malaysia) for eight years for PR, what more grant children overseas citizenship!”

Shirley scoffed at the various steps that Malaysian mothers need to take to obtain Malaysian citizenship for their children born overseas.

Hishammuddin had announced that both parents need to appear in person before the consulate officer at Malaysian embassies or high commissions to make the application. Forms must be submitted within a year of the child’s birth.

Once approved, applicants must present themselves and the child in person at the National Registration Department in Putrajaya to apply for a citizenship certificate and MyKad.

“Are you saying Malaysian high commissions overseas are worthless?” she said. “We’ve to come all the way in (sic) KL to process a card. How ludicrous is that?”

Shirley, who has stayed in the UK since 1976, decided to return to Malaysia in 2002 with her British husband and three UK-born children. After a hellish year of moving back and forth Singapore and Malaysia at least three times just to renew her husband’s three-month visit pass, Shirley finally managed to obtain an employment visa for her husband when they set up a training and consulting company in 2003.

When asked to comment on the Home Minister’s offer to allow Malaysian mothers to get Malaysian citizenship for their children born overseas, Shirley countered, “Are you going to give me dual citizenship?”

“I don’t want to forgo their (my children) British nationality because it’s their birthright.”

Despite the fact that her three children have resided in Malaysia for eight years and undergone Malaysian education, the immigration department informed Shirley that her children’s student visas was not a basis for PR application. They would either have to get a work visa, an employment visa for five years, or marry a local.

While a Malaysian student only needs to pay a few hundred ringgit for college application fees, Shirley has to fork out between RM3,000 to RM4,000 for international application fees as her children are considered foreigners.

“Is my Malaysian citizenship worthless?” Shirley lamented. “Why do they treat me like an illegal...and like my husband and children are immigrants?”

“I feel I’m being punished for marrying a foreigner,” concluded Shirley.

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