Should you migrate? The 64,000-dollar question

– Koon Yew Yin
The Malaysian Insider
February 14, 2014

Recently, I received a reference to a new book written by two migrant Malaysian brothers who have lived abroad for more than 10 years with advice for would-be migrants.

Their advice included tips, such as never taking things for granted, never burn your bridges, to be objectively optimistic and the importance of financial freedom amongst the various freedoms.

These tips are useful in any major decision you make about life and career.

In fact, many “how to succeed” books – whether they deal with the stock market or changing jobs – offer similar or variants of this advice, although the advice may be presented in different languages and styles.

The most important point that the book seems to emphasise is that every country has its good and bad points.

This again is sensible.

Every would-be migrant – unless he or she comes from the most god-forsaken and wretched country on earth – should know that the new country he or she is intending to migrate to will not be a paradise on earth.

What the book seems to be concerned about is that many Malaysians are being driven to migrate in the false hope that somewhere in some countries, the governments care for their people, practise freedom of speech, and promote fairness and equality.

Actually, I think few Malaysians have the expectation of a completely level playing field and fair play in Australia, New Zealand, United States, Britain or any other country to which they intend to migrate.

I also do not believe that any departing Malaysian has an ideal picture of the host country and its various freedoms and racial policies as their main reason for migration.

Why Malaysians are migrating

What is driving them – especially Chinese and Indian Malaysians, and also Malays – to migrate is that the political and social situation in Malaysia has gone from bad to worse.

They see growing “ketuanan Melayu” and “ketuanan Islam” intruding into their personal and public lives.

They see a Barisan Nasional government which is unable to reform and increasingly giving way to Perkasa, Isma and other extremist forces in public policy making and implementation – a development which even moderate and liberal Malays cannot stomach.

Of course, they are fully aware that they are exchanging one “ketuanan” for another in the countries that they are migrating to.

But the important difference for many that make the hard decision to leave is that, even though the playing field may be uneven when they arrive at their new home, it will be a more even and fairer one for their children – in terms of education and jobs – even without taking into account the higher quality of life in these countries.

This then is the 64,000-dollar question which many Malaysians – especially those who have succeeded so well and are the top of their professions – face.

Just on the economics of it, for these businessmen or professionals, Malaysia is a good country to live and die.

Many Malaysians (I am part of this group) have done well for themselves. Despite the New Economic Policy and other forms of discrimination, we remain privileged in our economic standing.

But the younger generation face an increasingly bleak future.

As the economic pie shrinks, the fight for good jobs, contracts, commissions and a better life is becoming fiercer.

A young graduate today without assistance from his parents will never be able to afford a decent apartment in Kuala Lumpur or Penang.

A house within an hour from his place of work in the city centre is a dream which can only be achieved by winning the lottery.

When you combine the economic with the political, social and educational factors, then the decision on whether to migrate or not becomes a more urgent one – even for Malaysians who have done really well in their careers here.

For them, it is the future of their kids which becomes the final push factor.

What the government can do to stem migration

While the decision to migrate or stay back is an individual and personal one, the government must realise that most Malaysians – I would say more than 90% – are loyal and patriotic.

We know that we are living in a good and in some ways, a lucky country. The majority of Chinese Malaysians do not want to leave for a new land and to start afresh all over again.

But we, and our children, must not be treated as “pendatang”.

Our contributions to the country’s prosperity and wellbeing must be recognised.

It is an undeniable fact that all the urban towns, megamalls, apartment buildings, amusement centres, roads, railways, ports, rubber plantations, manufacturing plants were built solely or mainly with Chinese and Indian labour and capital.

The foundations of our educational system – our schools and universities – similarly owe much to non-Malay teachers.

It is also an undeniable fact that modern Malaysia and its amenities and standard of living – what Perkasa and Malay and Islamic supremacist groups take for granted – will not exist without the Chinese and Indian contributions.

It is not only on the economic side that we have contributed.

Our contributions have also been in the arts, culture, architecture and social.

Just think of how much Malay food has borrowed from, and has been enriched by the Chinese and Indian communities – even right down to the language – taugeh, bihun, kuetiao, pohpiah, sotong, lobak, chapchai, tauhu, chapati, roti canai, mee mamak, thosai, sambal, nasi biryani and more.

Do not kill the golden goose

Our talent and abilities must be given equal opportunity so that we can contribute to a more prosperous and greater Malaysia. Our young people must not be driven to feel they have an inferior place in this country.

The Malay ultras and those in Umno must come to their senses regarding the place of the Chinese in Malaysia.

Malays may have control over all the major sectors of the country – political, social, cultural, educational, and a large part of the economy through government-linked companies and new Malay business elite.

But it is the non-Malay component that created the old wealth. It is also the non-Malays who can provide much of the driving force and dynamism that enables new wealth to be created and shared with the less productive and needy.

Don’t kill the goose that lays the golden egg for Malays and Malaysia is my advice to them.

Finally, to those facing the dilemma of migration, I wish to point out that the Pakatan Rakyat manifesto during the last elections acknowledges the need for reforms to dismantle the racially discriminatory policies put in place by the Barisan Nasional.

Since the opposition coalition won more than 50% of the popular vote, there is hope still for a fairer society to emerge. – February 14, 2014.

  1. #1 by Jeffrey on Saturday, 15 February 2014 - 9:07 am

    ///What the government can do to stem migration. While the decision to migrate or stay back is an individual and personal one…/// – Koon Yew Yin.
    First off, who is so naïve to believe that other than lip service the govt (or more specifically the people who make decisions for and enjoy benefits from being in the govt) want to stem migration when those who migrate invariably are those antithetical to the entire political and social system here and given a chance will vote against the government? Its good riddance that those who oppose leave. Talents/human capital leave and its bad for country- this whilst true, does not contradict the fact that people (whether you speak of corrupt politicians or hopeful migrants), no matter how they claim being patriotic always put their self (socio economic) interest and family interest foremost with country only after that.

  2. #2 by Jeffrey on Saturday, 15 February 2014 - 9:12 am

    “Should you Migrate”? Agree that the decision to migrate or stay back is an individual and personal one. Whether the outcome is favourable or otherwise stressful is also individual and personal depending on the person’s financial, social network circumstances and temperament. It depends on whether you are in vantage position to leverage and benefit from the existing moribund system that cannot be easily changed except in generational terms. If one is entrepreneurial inclined and have a few political or elite connections to bring in lucrative and exclusive business opportunities which can leverage on your ability and contributions on sharing captive market basis why would you want to migrate to another place bereft of these opportunities except being only an employee with benefits if one is happy with that? So the 64,000-dollar Question also often (but not entirely) whether you could work around and benefit from the Present System or be totally marginalised /disadvantaged by it. Conversely it also depends whether you could work around the “sytem” in country you migrate or margnalised there, where on balance, its more favourable to be here. Its a cost and benefit equation.

  3. #3 by omeqiu on Saturday, 15 February 2014 - 10:13 am

    Great piece of article! But any empirical study of emigrants?

  4. #4 by Bigjoe on Saturday, 15 February 2014 - 10:37 am

    I come from a generation where the best and brightest left this country some came back like myself. Now I see that many of those that were unable to leave or were ambivalent has decided that their children will have no such fate – unless there is complete change, not any other way, their children will not stay or be trapped – either they will migrate at the first chance or they will prepare for one foot at the door already.

    We are not going to ask for anything anymore. We will do what is necessary. The time for taking the likes of us hostage and making demands is over. Our offer is fair – take it or we leave..

  5. #5 by worldpress on Saturday, 15 February 2014 - 11:28 am

    Many bodoh still in SLEEP MODE

    They do not understand country MALAYSIA in huge debt their children and grand grand children need to pay the country huge debt

    Using racial those BODOH will be in protecting mode to protect problem corrupted people continue to enlarge country huge debt till beyond repair only then WAKE UP…too late

  6. #6 by bruno on Saturday, 15 February 2014 - 11:45 am

    If the exodus of Malaysians migrating has suddenly shot through the roof,there is only one explanation.Blame it on the home minister who has cause fear among Malaysians condoning assault on a lady MP.With such ignorant people in charge of national security,even the family dogs and cats would want to migrate.

  7. #7 by undertaker888 on Saturday, 15 February 2014 - 1:05 pm

    Don’t waste your time with umno. They won’t listen or take the advice unless you have bag loads of money for them.

    They already fook up the country and people. Now it is time to kick them out from federal power.

  8. #8 by hurricanemax on Saturday, 15 February 2014 - 1:23 pm

    100% of those who left over the past decades are loyal to the country. 100% of ’em and 51% of voters are not loyal to your government, a corrupted one since 1980s…

  9. #9 by lee tai king (previously dagen) on Saturday, 15 February 2014 - 1:42 pm

    ///taugeh, bihun, kuetiao, pohpiah, sotong, lobak, chapchai, tauhu, chapati, roti canai, mee mamak, thosai, sambal, nasi biryani ///

    These my friend, are umno words.


    Doing so would be anti-melayu (read umno), anti-agung, anti-islam jenis umno, anti-gobermen, anti-malaysia, ungrateful to umno and unpatriotic to the country.


  10. #10 by boh-liao on Sunday, 16 February 2014 - 7:20 pm

    What abt KANGKUNG? Pendatang’s word?

    Humans always move 2 lands of their choice.–lky-072329450.html

  11. #11 by waterfrontcoolie on Monday, 17 February 2014 - 11:28 am

    Here we have nimcompoops asking Malaysians to leave if they can’t accept the behaviour of a small number of self-proclaimed owners of this nation. In the US and many advanced economies they are debating as to how to attract brains to ensure that their economies remain competitive and progressive. It is so obvious that those who cannot compete will continue to utter such threat. They have NOTHING to contribute except clinging to their own vested interests of “easy rentals”. With the economies in the once forgotten Africa improving at 7/8 % in 2013, soon enough they will compete with our basic commodities; especially oil palm then reality will set in; yes when it is already too late! They had forgotten that Myanmar [Burma then] and Philippines were the top dogs immediately after WWII’ today they are at the bottom half of the ASEAN pile; though the later is picking up. Maybe, it Malaysia’s turn to dip to the bottom; if feng sui is to be trusted!

  12. #12 by boh-liao on Friday, 21 February 2014 - 1:25 am

    YES, YES, YES – migrate!
    NOT a 64,000-dollar Q, but a matter of LIFE n DEATH
    Migrate b4 shot DEAD like Wong Kong Ting, DAP branch chief of Kampung Jering, Ayer Tawar, Perak

  13. #13 by boh-liao on Friday, 21 February 2014 - 2:00 am

    YES, YES, YES – migrate!
    Lots of $$$ NOT going in2 rakyat’s pockets but in2 those of some privileged few
    Now, MMK veri happi n satisfied
    His boy has finally joined d ranks of d country’s top 10 richest billionhairs
    WOW, so resourceful 1, billionhair at such a young age n his old man kept saying NO corruption 1, U know

  14. #14 by waterfrontcoolie on Friday, 21 February 2014 - 6:34 am

    We all know migrating to work in a foreign country is tough mentally on any fresh graduate; even if you are mentally very strong. For a start, you will be mostly alone living in a rented apartment, most likely in a rented room. Though the process will build up one’s resilience which is something you must experience to become part of your inner strength. The declining value of the ringgit can be used for comparison for families who need the contribution from their young graduates. A few years ago, a friend came to discuss the offer her diploma-in-multimedia arts was given in Singapore may be a good example. She was offered a pay equivalent to the same amount but one in s$ and the other in rm$. Finally, we came to a conclusion that it would be better off to accept the offer down South because; she could possibly save some s$ 150 to s$200 each month and back home the family might still have to subsidize her at the end of each month! Of course, in today’s scenario, at that level, Singapore may not offer her any job. Well in term of reward. just witness the video where Prof. Kishore of Singapore was asked for his view on the role of USA and the rise of Asia. The moderator, a US diploma commended that he was a bit upset when he found out that Kishore was earning many folds more than himself for similar job! And this from a top US diplomat! The basic issue facing young and competitive Malaysians is a sense of fairness which they can find in the little DOT when competency and hard-work are usually rewarded equitably. The ketuanan approach is designed to prop up a sense of insecurity and inability to compete; nothing more. The sad thing is this approach will only temporarily shelter the Malays as long as Petronas oozes out the black gold. I just wonder the impact when it dries up. By then those who have amassed enough will live until it is finished and those without any mean will turn migrant workers like the Banglas, Indonesians and the Myanmarees etc

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