28 June 1998
Malaysia is home for some 2.5 million immigrants (perhaps slightly less now following
several deportations) and each year they remit billions of ringgit to their home
countries. God knows how much they earn and pay and or evade in taxes.
I am not unhappy that the government will continue to deport illegal immigrants despite
the situation in a neighbouring nation. My friend, Home Affairs Deputy Minister,
Dato' Tajol Rosli Ghazali, who was in New York two weeks ago, told me that the policy
"of not allowing new foreign workers in Malaysia would continue even though
several quarters had asked the prime minister and me to rethink on the decision".
the Big Apple, legal immigrants last year paid US$18.2 billion (RM71 billion) in
taxes, about 15.5% of the state's total taxation. Illegal immigrants whom Americans
call "undocumented immigrants" pay another US$1.1 billion (RM4.3 billion)
according to a report released here early last month.
The report by the Urban Institute, a Washington based non-profit research organization,
also says that the longer immigrants stay in New York, the more they earn and pay
There are hundreds of Malaysians (mainly Malaysian Chinese, Indians and a dozen or
two bumiputra) working in New York, either running restaurants or working in them.
There are also Malaysians working in the professions, the fashion and beauty industry
and other activities.
I have met many of them and they appear very, very happy. One lady (from Petaling
Jaya), a hair stylist, said she had sent enough money since last summer to her mother
to buy a house.
A contractor from Sitiawan went home last week to buy "cheap" construction
companies using his hard-earned hard currency, the greenback. The higher rate of
exchange in favour of the dollar is a boom time for Malaysian workers here. The trilingual
and smart contractor told me: "I wish I have more money to take home. Everything
is a good grab, well, almost a fire sale if you know the expression," He runs
a small construction company here which is doing extremely well.
The Urban Institute's report also finds that immigrants who have lived in the Empire
State (nickname of the state) for more than 15 years earn more on average than native
New York State, with a population of 18.13 million, made up of 74.4 % white, 15.9
% black, 123% Hispanics and 3.9% Asians, is the third populous state; Californian
is the first with 31.5 million and Texas (18.7 million) second. The smallest is Wyoming
with 480,184 people.
The principal industries of New York are finance, manufacturing, communications,
tourism and services and the main manufactured goods are books, periodicals, clothing
Pfizer, the maker of Viagra, has its headquarters a block away from my office at
the Malaysian Permanent Mission to the United Nations in Tudor City.
New York City has more museums and galleries, bookstores and ethnic restaurants than
any city I know. At the people's bookstores, Barnes and Noble (booksellers since
1873), one can drink and eat while browsing or reading books. You need not buy any
book or newspaper, however, you have to pay for your food and drinks.
Most Barnes and Noble bookstores are open till late at night; not even Paris can
match New York in innovation and consumerism.
Like us at home there are many kinds of immigrants: Legal permanent residents called
"green card holders documented immigrants and undocumented- ones and those legal
immigrants who have become American citizens and have substantially different education,
income levels, tax payments and, welfare benefits.
However, the report does not give an analysis of the economic contributions of immigrants
to the overall United States economy (which must be substantial) or say whether the
tax-paying immigrants get equal service and treatment in education, medicine, law,
justice and welfare.