Virginia, US
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| Kenneth Lau

Navigating the Malaysian Expatriate Online Portal

The year 2014 will be remembered as a significant one for business immigration in Malaysia. In the first half of the year, the Malaysian Immigration Department’s (MID) Expatriate Services Division introduced its new online portal (e-portal), replacing the manual submission of Employment Pass (EP) applications. Its implementation has, however, been complicated and challenging, and many companies are struggling with obtaining clarity on the process and timing.
Expatriate Services Division (ESD) 
The ESD was set up under the MID in late 2012 to offer consolidated immigration services to expatriates and their dependent family members. It was established in part to attract highly skilled expatriates and offer centralized immigration facilities, essentially acting as a one-stop shop. 
Early in 2014, the ESD announced the launch of its new online e-portal, to be rolled out in three phases based on industry. 
  • Phase 1. Oil, gas and energy online applications commenced 10 March 2014; 
  • Phase 2. Agriculture, mining, healthcare, finance, tourism and sports online applications commenced 1 April 2014; and 
  • Phase 3. All remaining companies and sectors online applications commenced 15 April 2014. 
ESD e-Portal Registration 
All companies intending to submit EP applications with the ESD must now register on the ESD e-portal first. Only when the company is activated on the system, can it start to file online EP applications. 
ESD registration is a six-step process, which includes the actual processing steps of the application. The entire process takes at least two months from submission of the initial registration application. The registration steps are: 
  1. Creation of account. The company creates an account on the e-portal; 
  2. Submission of registration. The company completes and submits its company registration application via the e-portal; 
  3. ESD processing. ESD processes the registration application (processing stage of verifying, vetting and recommendation); 
  4. Registration approval. ESD notifies the company of registration approval; 
  5. Facilitation package and acceptance. The company receives the facilitation package and completes a Letter of Undertaking; and 
  6. Company expatriate services rollout. The company makes an appointment with ESD via the e-portal for a director to attend the MID to sign the Letter of Undertaking. The director must appear in person to sign the LOU. Once the company is activated on the system, it may then start to file online EP applications. 
Recent Developments 
When the e-portal first went online, the mandate to file online was applicable only to initial EP applications. Applications for renewals of existing EPs continue to be by manual submission of a hard copy, although it is expected that these will also move to the online system eventually. 
As the e-portal rollout commenced, it was expected that work passes for short-term technical assignments of up to 12 months, known as Professional Visit Passes (PVPs), would also move to the online system as the option to select a PVP already existed on the online application form. However, there was no upfront announcement on the plans for PVPs. On 24 September 2014, officers at the MID informally released the message that manual applications would not be accepted as of 26 September 2014, and would now need to be submitted online starting 1 October 2014. 
The movement of PVP applications to the e-portal also affects those employers whose Employment Pass applications are filed with government agencies regulating their industry (for instance, Information & Communications Technology (ICT) companies which file their EP applications with the Multimedia Development Corporation, or MDeC). These companies must now file their PVP applications via the ESD e-portal, which means that they must now also register with the ESD. Their EP applications will continue to be coursed through the regular relevant government agency. 
What Employers Can Do 
First, it is clear that the Malaysian system is moving towards all applications being filed online. Although it has not yet been confirmed that renewal applications will be filed online, for example, it is clear that is the direction that the ESD is heading toward. It is therefore important for all companies, regardless of industry, to ensure that they have registered on the ESD e-portal (as it may be necessary to do so now for PVP applications). 
It is also important for companies to understand that, as the new system is rolled out, there are likely to be further changes, including to the process and its requirements. It may be that there is little warning provided of further changes and so it is important to plan ahead and be prepared for any new requirements and delays. 
Companies should also be prepared for inconsistent and lengthier processing times generally. Even though the ESD client charter states it should take only five working days to process an application for approval of an expatriate’s proposed job position, typically the first step of the EP application process, our recent experience has shown that such applications can take up to one month to process. 
The implementation of the online system is a positive move for business immigration in Malaysia and will help to streamline and expedite the EP application process. Once the new system is fully implemented, processing times should decrease and businesses can begin to enjoy its benefits.