Malaysia delays amnesty plan for illegal workers

KUALA LUMPUR - Malaysia is delaying an amnesty programme aimed at fingerprinting an estimated two million illegal foreign workers, a minister said on Monday.

The amnesty scheme to encourage illegal workers to come forward and register was originally scheduled to start Monday.

But Home Minister Hishammuddin Hussein said it was put off to allow authorities to first fingerprint the country's legal foreign workers, who number some 1.9 million. He gave no new date for the amnesty scheme.

"We have decided to postpone the registration of illegal workers through the biometric system until further preparations," he told reporters.

"There are several technical issues and national security matters that we have to sort out before going ahead with this," he added, without elaborating.

The amnesty programme was announced last month to deal with Malaysia's large population of foreign workers, who support the economy by filling low-paid jobs shunned by locals in industries such as plantations and construction.

The programme would allow some of the now illegal immigrants to gain employment legally, and others to leave the country without facing punishment such as jail terms and caning.

The government has also said legalisation will protect workers from falling victim to trafficking gangs.

Malaysia is one of Asia's largest importers of foreign labour, mostly from neighbouring Indonesia, Bangladesh and other regional countries.