The “Madani” government, which promises care and compassion as its pillars for nationhood, should act decisively to remove the visa impasse for the foreign Catholic nuns running an elderly care home in Penang.
The issue surfaced after the Vibes highlighted the home’s elderly residents’ poignant Christmas celebration.
The nuns are from the universally acclaimed Little Sisters of the Poor religious order, which has its headquarters in France and operates homes in over 30 countries. The order’s mission is to provide care for the elderly poor who have no one to look after them.
In Penang, the nuns’ care home in Batu Lanchang has been struggling with personnel constraints in recent years. The church has been unable to bring in more much-needed trained nuns, who have dedicated their lives to care for the elderly.
The average age of the residents at the Penang home is 70. The oldest, who is 93, has lived at the home for the past 33 years.
Fewer than 10 nuns now remain at the care home. One of them is 103 years old, and several others are also ageing, the Vibes revealed.
This frustrating ‘impasse’ from the Immigration Department is not something new.
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The home’s representatives may innocuously regard this impasse as just a ‘technical hiccup’ with the immigration authorities. But others wonder if there is more to this hurdle than meets the eye.
Imagine, Malaysia has 2.2 million migrant workers and another 1.2 to 3.5 million undocumented migrants in the country. The authorities readily approve permits for foreign brains hired to work here. The government promotes the Malaysia, My Second Home scheme vigorously and grants successful applicants visas with relative ease.
So, why are these dedicated Little Sisters nuns, specially trained in elderly care, unable to get visas easily? Why is it such a problem to grant about a dozen long-stay visas to these nuns who provide a valuable voluntary social service without taking a single sen in salary?
Malaysia is one of the largest migrant-receiving countries in Southeast Asia.
Yet, this elderly care home faces difficulty in bringing in foreign nuns to help run its operations. The foreign nuns already here have to constantly renew their visas.
Christopher Kushi, the legal adviser to Cardinal Sebastian Francis, hopes the authorities will allow the entry of foreign nuns to help the home.
The services of these unsalaried nuns are invaluable for this ageing nation.
Some 30 other countries worldwide have had no problem with the presence of these nuns and the selfless service they provide.
But in Malaysia, the nuns have had to put up with so many unnecessary challenges.
Their religious order, which runs just two free homes for the elderly – the other one is in Kuala Lumpur – has appealed to the government to issue longer visas to its nuns and to reduce the red tape in getting them.
The nuns used to receive 10-year visas in the 1990s. But this was slowly reduced to five years and then to three years and now even shorter. The question is why.
A long-term visa under the ‘religious’ category is denied by the immigration for ‘many’ reasons.
This impasse in allowing in another dozen nuns to provide free, dedicated and highly skilled care for the elderly affects about 165 residents in the two homes.
The nuns who manage these homes are not demanding government allocations. Instead, they rely on churchgoers’ alms to finance their caregiving work. Currently, four nuns from Singapore, Sri Lanka and South Korea run these homes. The chief caretaker of the Penang home, a Samoan-Australian, was forced to retire as there were issues with her visa.
Appeal after appeal to various ministries and to successive prime ministers in the past have only been met with silence.
Meanwhile, the Madani leadership is ploughing ahead in making care and compassion as pillars of nationhood. But will it introduce changes to help these religious communities with their obligation to serve the vulnerable?
As we approach the new year, let’s hope for changes to the immigration criteria for visas so that groups like the Little Sisters can continue caring for the elderly in our rapidly ageing nation.