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Adam Minter

Malaysia's Immigration Mess

A moratorium on foreign workers hasn't made anyone happy.
Help wanted.

Help wanted.

Photographer: Mohd Rasfan/AFP

The pattern is a familiar one. In February, the Malaysian government proposed allowing 1.5 million Bangladeshi workers into the country to seek employment. A popular backlash ensued and the government quickly backtracked, imposing a moratorium on hiring foreign workers of all kinds, which still stands.

In advanced economies, where this kind of back-and-forth is common, that might be the end of the matter until the next election (or refugee crisis). But in Malaysia something unusual has happened: There are plenty of jobs, but no one to take them.