By Farrah Naz Karim
PUTRAJAYA, MALAYSIA: Malaysia will tighten visa procedures for foreigners to prevent negative influences and unsavoury characters from entering the country.
It is learnt that visitors from all countries that currently need visas to enter Malaysia will be subjected to "individual assessments".
A declaration of intent will no longer suffice.
This is in accordance with the first-tier visa issuance system in most developed countries, includting the United States. This will allow for the identification of "questionable" characters at the point of application.
A Home Ministry source said the new conditions would enable authorities to identify potential "hazards" intending to cross the nation's borders.
The government wants to plug loopholes in the current entry system as it is felt that many had taken advantage of the country's relaxed visa requirements to indulge in undesirable activities, such as vice.
It is learnt that countries that are of concern include several African nations, a few countries in the Middle East and Latin America.
Visitors who want to come to Malaysia will need to present their economic and detailed personal background, a security bond, as well as letters of undertaking
and proof of family ties and financial support from their sponsors here when applying for visas at Malaysian consuls in their country.
This will not only enable the government to reject visa applications of suspicious characters, but also to track them down if they cause trouble later.
The source said this would spell the end of the two-tier visa processing system or the "visa-without-reference" system adopted several years ago to promote tourism and higher education in Malaysia.
"What we have is a system with limited information about the people who we allow to enter the country. Only when they arrive do we try to manage and get them to observe their visa restrictions.
"As you know, entering the US is not easy as assessments are conducted on applicants. We want to stop visa applications based on nothing but declarations made by applicants," said the source.
According to a senior Foreign Affairs Ministry official, the government must be able to weed out people who enter the country claiming to be students, tourists and businessmen, but are actually here for undesirable purposes.
"If they come as tourists, they should make bookings at hotels and have return tickets. They should also have an appropriate amount of money to spend or perhaps have a sponsor who can vouch for them.
"If they are coming as students, our consul there would ask them to prove that a college in Malaysia is going to admit them," he said.
Senior government officials said tighter entry requirements will not have an adverse impact on the various economic sectors in Malaysia.
They said the tightening of entry procedures was part of four areas the government would tackle in monitoring and managing foreigners.
Currently, only visitors from Afghanistan, North Korea, Cuba, India, China and Vietnam are required to submit supporting documents when applying for a Malaysian visa.
A government committee to monitor and manage foreigners recently met and decided to beef up the monitoring mechanism and information system on foreigners, enforcement efforts and review relevant laws.
Sources said allowing better quality visitors to come into the country would prevent the infiltration of negative influences, curb the proliferation of drug syndicates and use of Malaysians as drug mules.
"If not addressed, the country's image will deteriorate and this will turn away tourists and investors in the long term," they said.