In this webinar, Dr Ngeow Chow-Bing discussed the phenomenon of Xin Yimin (China’s new migrants), where citizens of the PRC have become temporary residents in Malaysia. Dr Ngeow (Director of the Institute of China Studies at the University of Malaya in Kuala Lumpur) was joined by Professor Leo Suryadinata (Visiting Senior Fellow at ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute) who acted as discussant for this webinar. Dr Lee Hwok Aun (Senior Fellow with the Malaysia Studies Programme) was the moderator.
REGIONAL SOCIAL & CULTURAL STUDIES PROGRAMME WEBINAR
Thursday, 12 May 2022 – The vast majority of PRC citizens in Malaysia are not “migrants” in the sense of being permanent residents of Malaysia. Some may want to be naturalised into Malaysian citizenship, but Malaysia maintains a very strict and even prohibitive naturalization process. However, through various arrangements or schemes, the number of PRC citizens staying in Malaysia for a sustained period of time has substantially increased. They include applicants of the Malaysia My Second Home scheme, students, investors, labourers, spouses, and others.
There are at least two major organizations established to provide networking platforms for these PRC citizens: China Students Association of Malaysia (CSAM) and China Enterprises Chamber of Commerce in Malaysia (CECCIM). Dr Ngeow looked at the numbers and trends from various sources and discussed these platforms to ponder the social, political, cultural, and economic implications of this phenomenon.
First, Dr Ngeow provided an overview of the Xin Yimin phenomenon. He suggested that this began in the 1980s with the relaxation of China’s laws regarding leaving the country. The nature of migration to Southeast Asia specifically tended to be transitory, circulatory, middle- to long-term rather than permanent settlement. Xin Yimin also generally refers to professional migrants or those of higher socio-economic status.
Next, Dr Ngeow covered relevant literature and highlighted the works on the Hui Chinese who seem to prefer to migrate to Malaysia compared to other Southeast Asian locations. Moving on to trends and statistics, he noted that in the late 1980s, most Hui students came to Malaysia to study. Following the full liberalization of people-to-people exchange only happened in the 1990s as Malaysia began relaxing entry for PRC citizens. From 2000s onwards, Malaysia saw an increase in PRC population and the height of this was in 2018 when several news organizations covered this phenomenon. Dr Ngeow made a conservative estimate that the number of PRC citizens in Malaysia could be around 40,000-50,000. This number was in an upward trajectory but slowed down due to continuous political transition in Malaysia and COVID-19.
Regarding the activities of the Xin Yimin, Dr Ngeow observed that from the early 1990s to late 2000s, student migrants tended to opt for private institutions due to lower barrier of entry. Later, the number of Chinese student migrants also increased in public institutions. The number now stands at 28,000 students enrolled in Malaysian universities although many are taking just online courses. Dr Ngeow argued that the reasons for increasing numbers could be the impact of China’s international relations, successful marketing by Malaysia’s educational institutions and existing networks which make migration easier.
Dr Ngeow also highlighted the ‘Malaysia My Second Home’ scheme that was originally meant to attract retirees. However, currently, PRC citizens dominate this scheme, making up 30.5 per cent of the total applicants, possibly leading the Malaysian government to tighten the scheme’s requirements. Under the Xin Yimin category, there are also expats and illegal foreign workers. Additionally, there are foreign spouses who marry Malaysian locals. This has caused significant social problems arising out of divorce, death of spouse or fake marriages. Lastly, there are students in private international schools and their guardian-parents/caretakers. Malaysia is an attractive option for PRC citizens given the Anglican nature of the international schools and their faculty, which they view as a better option compared to local schools in China.
Following this, Dr Ngeow discussed overstaying workers or tourists who engage in a variety of illegal activities such as phone scams, gambling or prostitution. Thus far, 697 Chinese citizens have been deported from Malaysia. While the trend of illegal activities stemming from this group is decreasing, crimes continue to occur and it is becoming more sophisticated. The victims are usually PRC citizens or ethnic Chinese in Malaysia.
Listing Xin Yimin organizations and networks, Dr Ngeow covered business associations, student societies and welfare groups. These organizations provide social support for the Xin Yimin to adjust to Malaysia, through companionship and shared activities. The Chinese embassy has increased engagement with PRC citizens, especially after the 2008 Olympics. Thus, it maintains close contact with the business and student organizations.
Dr Ngeow’s presentation concluded with implications for Malaysia. In terms of socio-cultural implications, interactions between PRC workers and local society remain minimal. Other groups such as students and guardians tend to interact more comparatively but they mainly stay within their own circles. Expatriates and investors have the most interaction with locals. Regarding geographical distribution, Xin Yimin are scattered all over Malaysia but concentrated in certain places such as Kuala Lumpur, Johor Bahru, Kuantan, and Penang. Economic Implications include the Xin Yimin generating consumption, employment and new business opportunities. Politically, Malaysia has to deal with unfounded populist fear of large-scale Chinese “colonization” or potential communist threat.
Discussant Professor Leo appreciated Dr Ngeow’s detailed presentation. He added that Xin Yimin are sometimes described as “migrants without roots” — referring to Chinese new migrants who do not rest anywhere. Furthermore, he questioned the nature of their interactions with the local Chinese of Malaysia, especially in the business sense. He also added that the Hui Chinese’s situation is an exception given their unique disposition of sharing religion with the Malays. Thus, the government likely believed that their integration with the locals would be easier. In fact, this may not be the case.
Over 70 people attended this webinar. During the Q&A session, the audience queried about whether the Xin Yimin were being used to stir ethnic tensions during elections, how the Malay population perceives the Xin Yimin and how do ethnic Muslims from PRC compare to ethnic Muslim groups from the Middle East, especially in their participation and interactions with local community in Malaysia.