Work permit in Malaysia

work permit application
Updated 2022-05-21 18:58

Malaysia is a growing financial, technological and commercial hub in Southeast Asia. Kuala Lumpur, its historic capital, attracts many foreign professionals working in various economic sectors. If you want to work in Malaysia and discover all the riches of this country, you will first need to obtain a work permit. There are different kinds for different uses, so it's best to know exactly what you need before you get started.

Malaysia's success over the past 20 years makes it one of Southeast Asia's economic leaders. Its capital, Kuala Lumpur, has seen significant urban development, as have other major cities in the country. Therefore, many foreigners seek employment in Kuala Lumpur or elsewhere in Malaysia. Today, Malaysia is an important financial platform in the region, as well as a real hub for new technologies, the development of start-ups and the service sector, among others.

There are so many activities that attract job seekers in Malaysia. So is the case for those who wish to do an internship in Malaysia or become a digital nomad in Malaysia. But administrative formalities are more complicated for those wishing to set up a business in Malaysia.

Each of these types of professional activities requires a specific work permit. As a matter of fact, Malaysia has three different kinds of work permits for foreigners, depending on the type of work, the length of the professional stay, the skills of the applicant, his country of origin, and the level of salary he or she may receive in Malaysia. Be sure to pinpoint the one you will need before starting your administrative procedures. Even if it is up to the companies to make the requests on your behalf, depending on the type of position offered to an expatriate, there are certain steps that need to be taken by the employee.

Malaysia has always been a country of immigration. The local Malaysian population rubs shoulders with strong contingents of Malaysians of Chinese, Indonesian, Sri Lankan, Thailanders, or Philippine origins and more.

Such diversity allows many nationals to blend in perfectly when working in Malaysia. It also allows the ability to rely on the support of communities that have established themselves in the country, sometimes centuries ago.

Since its independence in 1963, Malaysia has become one of the main centers of immigration in the region. The country has seen a strong surge of Indonesian and Filipino migrants, especially during the 1980s.

Sustained growth in the 1990s and 2000s enabled Malaysia to establish its special status in the region. With Singapore set as an example, the country has been able to learn from the miracle recipe of the small island state, prompting successive governments to invest massively in the modernization of their infrastructure. As such, the country has been experiencing a major digital revolution for several years now, which nevertheless still remains limited to the most urbanized areas. An obvious contrast between cities and the countryside is one of the main consequences of such urban development.

Another consequence is the distrust of the authorities vis-à-vis certain migrant populations, mainly those from Sri Lanka or the Philippines, wherefrom large numbers of illegal migrants flow in. Moreover, the government is very protective of local employment and has issued immigration quotas for certain nationals.

Even if some trades remain inaccessible to foreign nationals, Malaysia remains a great land of opportunities and offers a multiplicity of interesting and well-paid outcomes, provided that you have the necessary skills.

More importantly, any applicant for one of the work permits available in Malaysia must be in possession of a passport valid for a minimum of 18 months.

The work permit - Employment Pass

The Malaysian work permit is reserved for immigrants who obtain long-term employment with a Malaysian company. This permit has three categories: the first is reserved for expatriates earning a monthly salary of more than 10,000 RM and an employment contract of more than five years, and the second goes for those entitled to salaries of more than 5,000 RM but less than 10,000 RM along with a contract of less than two years. Finally, the third category concerns those who will get salaries of more than 3000 RM but less than 5000 RM and contracts of one year.

It is important to point out that workers in the first two categories are authorized to take dependents with them and can renew their permits as often as they wish. Members of the third category, on the other hand, are not allowed to bring their families and cannot have their work permits renewed more than twice.

The responsibility for applying for a work permit lies with the company that wishes to employ an expatriate. A prior request for an expatriate position must be made to one of the government authorities responsible for managing the flow of immigration (the immigration department of the Ministry of the Interior). Once this authorization has been granted, the employer must then submit the following documents to the authorities:

  • Photocopy of the employee's passport
  • Letter of approval from the immigration office
  • Work permit application form
  • Employment contract
  • CV and photocopies of diplomas
  • Presentation of the company

This category is open to all nationalities, except those with special conditions for traveling to Malaysia and those who are eligible to obtain a visa to stay in Malaysia. This type of permit is mainly used to attract expatriates from Western countries who might work in the main urban, economic, technological and commercial centers of the country.

About temporary work permits

A temporary work permit is generally granted to people with a minimum of skills in some specific professional fields. It is only reserved for nationals from countries more or less neighboring Malaysia or having a certain link with this nation (India, Bangladesh, Indonesia, Kazakhstan, Pakistan, Laos, Myanmar, Nepal, Thailand, Vietnam, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Philippines, Sri Lanka, Cambodia). Applicants must strictly be employed in construction, agriculture, manufacturing or services (domestic or otherwise) sectors. This type of permit is not available to employees from other professional categories, and there are still other specificities and prerequisites regarding its obtainment.

For example, Indian nationals do not have access to manufacturing jobs, while Indonesian men do not have access to any non-manufacturing jobs. The Bangladeshis, on the other hand, cannot work elsewhere than on the plantations.

As with the work permit, the temporary work permit requires the employer to apply to immigration services. Valid for one year, it cannot be renewed more than 10 consecutive times. Each request must be validated by the Ministry of the Interior since quotas regulating the number of

The documentation required in this particular case is heavier than for any other Malaysian work permit category. See below:

  • VDR application form (Visa with reference)
  • Letter of approval from the Ministry of the Interior in relation to the quotas
  • Visa application form
  • Receipt of direct debit payment
  • Bail
  • Photocopy of the candidate's passport
  • Photo of the applicant in passport format
  • Medical certificate issued by a medical center in the job seeker's country of origin
  • Health Insurance.

For validity's sake, temporary work permits must be accompanied by a visa application with reference. This application must be filed before arrival in Malaysia, with the Malaysian Embassy present in the country of origin of the applicant.

Since 2015, the Malaysian government has required any foreign worker wishing to be employed in Malaysia to present an Immigration Security Clearance (ISC), a document issued after security checks carried out by the Malaysian Information Office. Candidates must also undergo a medical check before they can receive their temporary work permit.

Malaysian authorities are particularly tough on illegal immigrants, especially on those who choose to stay in the country after their temporary work permits have expired. Punishments that sometimes even include public beatings are the basic norm. Fines are also high and some offenses can lead to imprisonment for no more than five years.

The Professional Business Card

A professional business card is a kind of work permit that stays valid for a maximum period of one year. It especially allows certain categories of expatriates with specific skills to exercise their talents in Malaysia for a short period of time. It is granted, for instance, to Islamic missionaries, international students for industrial training or for mobility programs, missionaries from other religions, artists, government officials from other countries, and volunteers.

The business card is only valid for people employed in a foreign company who come to work in a Malaysian company as part of a professional exchange program. The application for the business card must also be filed by the Malaysian company with the competent authorities.

These documents are required to obtain this type of permit include:

  • Photocopy of the candidate's passport
  • Offer letter from the Malaysian company
  • Visa application with reference
  • Presentation of the company
  • Candidate's diplomas or certifications

According to the profiles and origins of the candidates, Malaysian authorities have set several conditions that need to be met before being entitled to a professional business card. For example, Chinese nationals are required to present a bank certificate, while religious missionaries must not be over forty years old and must present a letter of approval from their referring religious authorities.

All administrative procedures must be carried out by the employing Malaysian company, prior to the arrival of the worker. As soon as the employee arrives, he will have to go to the immigration office and claim for an official stamp to be affixed to his/her passport. This will indicate that he or she will be the holder of a professional business card. In general, they are accompanied by officials from the Malaysian company or organization that called on their skills. Expatriates in this category are advised to communicate with their Malaysian employers or collaborators about the procedure to follow upon their arrival.


Business card holders are not permitted to be accompanied by their families or any other dependents.

Note as well that the business card is not renewable. The companies or organizations that employ expatriates on such terms can request an extension of professional stay on their behalf by adding all the supporting documents relating to their needs.

Finally, the visa application with reference cannot be made before obtaining approval for a visa application. Forms can be downloaded from the official Malaysia Immigration online portal.

Good to know :

Be aware that all types of permits mentioned therein only apply to expatriates who are on a temporary or long-term contract with a company based in Malaysia. These are not valid for foreigners who wish to set up a business in Malaysia.

Anyways, expatriate entrepreneurs and investors have the possibility of starting their business in Malaysia after obtaining official authorization from the government. While some sectors of activity are reserved for Malaysian citizens, there is an obvious need for foreign expertise and skills in the fields of health, pharmaceuticals, textiles, timber exploitation and that of minerals.

One of the sectors most in demand for foreign investment is the service sector, which accounts for around 10% of jobs in Malaysia and nearly 60% of the national GDP. Before the pandemic, Malaysia's main economic pillar was growing at 6.8% per year.

Obviously, the Covid-19 pandemic has delivered a serious blow to Malaysian growth, like everywhere else in the world. The country has been severely affected by the virus, and the government has resorted to drastic measures to limit its spread, in particular through the establishment of a Movement Control Order that limits the movement of the population. Despite an easing of controls and restrictions, the authorities remain very cautious and are very serious about any slightest breaches of health protocols.

The country began to partially reopen its borders at the end of 2021, and economic specialists expect the start of an economic recovery from the end of 2022 for certain sectors.

Useful links :

Malaysia Immigration Portal

Expatriate Services Division

Guide for foreign workers applying for a temporary work permit

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