Know Your Rights - Rights as a Foreign Spouse

Posted on 20 September 2002

Know Your Rights - Rights as a Foreign Spouse

Betiena* met John* when he went to visit his relatives in India. Betiena is an Indian national. They got on very well together and Betiena visited him when she came to Malaysia for a holiday. Betiena and John fell in love and eventually decided to get married. They were discussing about country of residence after marriage, and due to certain circumstances, it was determined that it would be advantageous to the both of them if they resided in Malaysia. However, Betiena was worried about her legal status in Malaysia as a foreign spouse should she do so. She was not sure if she would be allowed to work or apply for permanent residency. What are the laws in Malaysia regarding foreign spouses?

Most of the answers to Betiena's queries can be found under the Immigration Act 1959/1963. The Immigration Act is the main legislation that governs Malaysia's immigration; and covers issues like admission into and departure from Malaysia, entry permits, procedures on arrival into Malaysia, removal from Malaysia and so forth.

Although it is possible for Betiena to obtain permanent residency in Malaysia, it is wholly dependent on her husband's presence and approval during the application process. However, the process is long and cumbersome, and wholly requires the husband's participation in the application process and in the renewal of their yearly social pass. This is because the Immigration Department procedures require the husbands to be present during the application, and to give their consent to their wives' application for PR status. If the husbands refuse to support their applications for PR status and their social visas expire, this procedure leaves the foreign wives without recourse. The significance of this is especially pertinent when there is abuse, a crisis between the couple, separation or divorce during the application process period. This regrettable situation leaves the foreign wives at a vulnerable situation subjected to complete control by their husbands. This is especially so if they have children, where the foreign spouse may have to leave their Malaysian children behind if they are at risk of deportation.

The women's movement has long called for the government to amend laws and policies surrounding foreign spouses and conferring of citizenship by Malaysian mothers to uphold the spirit of gender equality as provided for in the recently amended Article 8(2) of the Federal Constitution. Meanwhile, below are what Betiena can do as a foreign spouse to remain in Malaysia and work.

In order to stay in the country legally, Betiena, as a Malaysian citizen's wife, can apply for a social visit pass:

  • If she needs to have a Visa to enter the country, she will first have to apply for that before coming to Malaysia.
  • She can then apply to extend her social visit pass by submitting the application to the State Immigration of Malaysia.
  • She will need the following supporting documents:
    - Form IMM.55 (2 copies)
    - Form IMM.58 (2 copies, if any)
    - 1 photostat copy of her passport or travel documents
    - 1 Photostat copy of her husband's identity card
    - 1 Photostat copy of her husband's citizenship certificate (if he has any)
    - 1 Photostat copy of their marriage certificate or marriage registration certificate
    - Letter of declaration of marriage certified by the Commissioner of Oaths
    - 2 photographs of the her and her husband (3.5cm x 5.0cm)
    - Wedding or family photograph
    - Wedding invitation card (if they have any)
    - If they have been divorced before from previous marriages, they should bring a Photostat copy of the relevant divorce certificate.
    - Security Bond
  • The social visit pass is valid for a period of 12 months. She will have to apply for an extension when it is expiring.

After continuously residing in Malaysia for a period of not less than five (5) years, Betiena is eligible for permanent residency. Before applying for permanent residency, she must first apply for an Entry Permit. In order to do so, she must submit the following documents:

  • Form Imm. 4 (1 copy). Part II of this form is the declaration part which must be made by the husband (as a person who is a resident in Malaysia). This form costs RM1.00
  • Photostat Passport/Travel Document
  • Photograph of applicant measuring 3.5 cm x 5.0 cm
  • Photograph of local sponsor measuring 3.5 cm x 5.0 cm
  • Other supporting documents (in example, her marriage certificate, work pass if she has it etc.)
  • The fee for Entry Permit is RM120.00 per entry permit.

To apply for Permanent Residency, she must bring along her travel documents or passports from previous years to the Visa, Permit and Pass Division of the Immigration Department. The immigration officer will then inform Betiena of her eligibility to apply for PR status, and the supporting documents she will have to submit with her application. However, please bear in mind that it might take a long time for this process, and the application may still be rejected. If so, Betiena will have to submit a new application if she still wishes to be a permanent resident of Malaysia.

As a foreign spouse of a Malaysian, she is eligible to apply for an Employment Pass if she possesses a valid Visa With Reference. She must be legally married under Malaysian law, and must have a secured job offer. She cannot be self-employed. The passes are issued on a yearly bases and is subjected to renewal.

To find out more about your rights as a foreign spouse under Malaysian immigration laws, you can go to the Immigration Department's website at

*Names changed to protect WAO's client's confidentiality.

Prepared by Jaclyn Kee
Women's Aid Organisation - 20 Years of Service to Women and Children

Fortnightly Column by WAO on Sunday Mail (Reprinted with permission from Sunday Mail)

«  Back