Catholic Mission Running Old Folks’ Homes Pleads for Longer Visas for Foreign Volunteer Nuns

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A Catholic mission running a free home for the aged and the destitute in Kuala Lumpur and Penang has appealed to the government to consider giving longer visas to its caretaker nuns and to reduce the red tape in getting them.

  • 10-year visas in the 1990s reduced to five and then three years
  • Yearly visas from 2016, 30-day or 15-day passes since July
  • Attempts to get long-term visas denied many times by immigration, citing many reasons

This came after the home’s four foreign nuns were not permitted to renew their yearly work visas in July due to a new policy by the Immigration Department.

Little Sisters of the Poor honorary adviser Paul Arokiasamy said since July, the nuns had been subjected to monthly renewal passes and this had proven to be cumbersome.

He said the monthly visas issued to the nuns also varied. They were issued 15-day or 30-day passes at RM100 each.

Paul said previously, since 2016, they were forced by the Immigration Department to go under the yearly expatriate visa category, despite they being just volunteers and receiving “not a single sen” for their work. The visa cost RM385 a year.

He said the nuns received 10-year visas in the 1990s. This was slowly reduced to five years and then three years.

“Our attempts to get long-term visas under the ‘religious’ category have been denied many times by immigration, citing many reasons.

“One of the reasons is the immigration policy that only one person is allowed for each religious house,” he told a press conference at their home on Batu Lanchang Lane in Penang today.

The home has 65 residents in Penang and 100 at the 5th mile Jalan Cheras, Kuala Lumpur. It is run by a French mission which relies on donations and alms from churchgoers to carry out its activities.

Currently, it has four nuns from Singapore, Sri Lanka and South Korea. The chief caretaker of the Penang home, a Samoan-Australian, was forced to retire as there were issues with her visa.

At the same press conference, Penang executive councillor Jagdeep Singh Deo said he had brought up the matter to the home ministry and was confident the mission will get good news soon.

Susan Loone/Malaysiakini

“A policy decision will be made soon by the ministry. I’m made to understand that women, family and community development ministry officials will visit them in KL soon,” he said.

Paul said while the announcement was welcome, it would be ideal for the home ministry and immigration officials to be more flexible with the visas for the nuns.

“We need at least 10 nuns, five in Penang and another five in KL to run the homes. Ideally, it would be good if we are given three-year or five-year visas again.

“These nuns only go back to their home countries once a year, stay for two weeks and return here,” he said.

When asked if there were any local nuns, Sister Margaret Anne Tan, acting head of the home in Penang, said: “It is a calling from God.

“If you add the working hours and no pay, no annual leave, which local would join? That is why I say this job is a calling from God.”

Meanwhile, the Women, Family and Community Development Ministry is well aware of the problems faced by the Little Sisters of the Poor.

Hannah Yeoh today took to Facebook to assure the public that her assistant has been in communication with the charitable organisation.

Choo Choy May

“The office of Datuk Seri Dr Wan Azizah is also liaising with the Immigration department and the Home Ministry is also aware of the situation and they are looking into it,” Yeoh wrote on her official Facebook page.

Yeoh was commenting on a public letter that was published on Malaysiakini on September 28 and circulating on WhatsApp, with the letter titled ‘Immigration woes for Little Sisters of the Poor’.

In the letter, Paul wrote of the challenges of getting long-term visas for the foreign nuns who provide free care for a total of 135 elderly residents in two homes in Penang and Kuala Lumpur.

Susan Loone/Malaysiakini – 2

Noting that these Malaysian elderly residents are neglected by their own family, he said the nuns volunteer without pay or allowance to carry out elderly care, including feeding, cleaning, bathing and attending to them.

FMT

“Our contention is that, if people who are contributing to the economic development of the country are given permanent resident passes and Malaysia My Second Home visas, why can’t the Immigration Department devise a category for us?

“After all, these nuns are looking after the wellbeing of elderly Malaysians. The elderly have a right to dignified palliative care and last rites that we give them. We take care of the residents until their demise,” he wrote in the letter.

“Why are we denying such rights to this category of Malaysians? We honestly cannot find Malaysians who will do the kind of work the nuns are doing. On top of that, they are not paid.

“We do not charge the residents. The home is operated by donations, contributions and also monthly collections done by the nuns in various Catholic churches in the country,” he added.

In the letter, Paul also highlighted various efforts to highlight the Little Sisters of the Poor’s plight, including multiple letters to both the former and current immigration director-general, the home minister and secretary-general, adding that they have even written to both Dr Wan Azizah and Yeoh as the organisation is registered under the latter two’s ministry’s Welfare Department.