LAST_UPDATEFri, 25 May 2018 11pm

Many Children Born Overseas Are In Limbo Over Their M’sian Citizenship Status

"I went back to Sabah to give birth (we live in the US). We got his Malaysian identification card, birth certificate and passport almost immediately after birth.

"We then flew to the US embassy in Kuala Lumpur to apply for US citizenship (via CRBA/birth certificate, passport and Social Security). It was approved the same day.

"I really wanted to make sure my son got both citizenships, and knew it was easier to get his US citizenship even though he was born abroad.

"That's why 'die die' I wanted to go back to Malaysia to give birth," Charlene had shared.

To many of us born in Malaysia, the lengths Charlene went through to secure a Malaysian citizenship for her son might sound extreme but if she had not taken that route, it might have been complicated for her son to be identified as Malaysian.

Noora, who is married to a Swedish national and gave birth to her son overseas, went through this complication.

"We applied for my son's Malaysian citizenship since he was seven months old. That was five years ago and on March 3 we received a letter saying that our application for him was not approved.

"Now I strongly believe that a child born overseas to a Malaysian mother and foreign father will not receive Malaysian citizenship.

"I will try to apply for Permanent Resident (PR) for him next," Noora resignedly said.

Noora is not the only one caught in this situation as we have spoken to many other parents with overseas-born children who are currently waiting for the result of their citizenship application.

Even A Foreign-Born Child To Parents Who Are Both M'sians Can Still End Up Stateless

Though it might be easy to jump to the conclusion that it was difficult for them to obtain citizenship for their child because their spouses are foreign, Alya’s predicament left us bewildered when she relayed her story.

“My eldest son was born in the US in 2009 when my husband, who is also Malaysian, and I were both studying there.

“We went to the Malaysian Embassy in Washington DC to apply for his Malaysian citizenship and we were told that he would receive it within six months.

“The embassy also asked us to revoke my son’s US citizenship, which he received two weeks after his birth, without reassuring that he will receive a Malaysian citizenship as they said that it would complicate the application process because Malaysia does not allow dual-citizenship.

“So for two years my son had been in the US on a visa and is effectively stateless,” she said while explaining that the embassy continued to beat around the bush regarding her son’s delayed citizenship despite having produced legitimate documented proof that they adhered to the guidelines and requirements.

When the family returned to Malaysia in 2012, the couple were more optimistic that things would be faster and better since they are on home soil but that could not have been further from the truth.

“For almost five years, my son has been staying in Malaysia ON A VISA and the registration department has the audacity to put the blame on my husband and I.

“Again, we produced legitimate documents that depicted our 'obedience' and similarly in the US, they refused to provide us with a concrete answer,” Alya said.

As her son’s status is still in limbo, the couple have reached out to a legal firm to help with their situation and in the meantime, her son continues to stay in Malaysia on a visa, which is starting to affect him as Alya said that the eight-year-old is “starting to isolate himself because he fears that he might be detained and separated from us.”

“I fail to understand why some parents are so fortunate to have their child's citizenship so quickly yet till this day, my son has yet to receive his.

“You're depriving him of many rights, yet it's so simple for certain groups to receive Malaysian citizenship so easily,” Alya lamented.

Guide To Becoming A Malaysian Citizen When Born Outside Malaysia

Listening to their stories made us wonder if it is really so difficult for Malaysian parents with children born overseas to apply Malaysian citizenship for them.

So we scoured the National Registration Department (JPNM) and Ministry of Foreign Affairs websites to find out what the requirements are for Malaysians who find themselves in this situation and what we found seems straightforward enough.

Under Article 14 of the Federal Constitution, Malaysian men can confer citizenship to their foreign born child easily once they register the birth at the Malaysian embassy or high commission within one year of the date of birth.

The process will take much longer if the child is registered after they have turned one, as their application would have to be forwarded to JPNM for processing and approval.

Extracted from JPNM websiteExtracted from JPNM website

However, prior to 2010, a Malaysian mother and a foreign father were not allowed to apply Malaysian citizenship for their child born overseas but starting from June 1 2010 under item 15(2) of the Malaysia Federal Constitution, they are able to do so if the child is born after January 1 2010 or within a year of their birth.

Their application would be forwarded to JPNM, instead of being processed by the embassy or high commission, for processing and approval, which would take up to a year or more.

Extracted from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs Malaysia websiteExtracted from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs Malaysia website

Just to be sure of what we found, we made several calls to JPNM under the guise of concerned relatives to Malaysians who have given birth abroad and received further updated clarification to the published guidelines on the JPNM website.

Basically, if you are:

i) the father and Malaysian, your child is considered a Malaysian so you just need to register the birth by bringing along the required documents to the embassy or high commission. However, when we asked how long it will take for the child’s birth certificate and/or passport to be issued, the officer said, “it depends on the embassy or high commission when to issue it.”

ii) the father and Malaysian, but the child was conceived prior to marriage or born before your marriage is registered, you do not have the right to apply Malaysian citizenship for your child.

iii) the mother and Malaysian but the father is foreign, you have to submit the application for Malaysian citizenship together with the required documents to the embassy or high commission and the JPNM officer said that “you have to wait for two years for the application to be processed as this is the Home Ministry’s policy.

“However, it might take longer than that as it is based on the Home Ministry’s discretion to give citizenship.

“The process is different for a child with a Malaysian mother and foreign father because the child’s citizenship follows the father’s.”

iv) the mother and Malaysian, but the child was conceived prior to marriage or born before your marriage was registered, you can apply for Malaysian citizenship but you have to come back to Malaysia to do so regardless of the nationality of the father.

According to JPNM’s website, this is in stated in Section 17, Part III of the Second Schedule of the Federal Constitution where the child’s status follows the mother’s in this circumstance.

“But the waiting period is still two years,” one of the JPNM officers told us.

Inconsistent Application Process Contributing To The Problem Of Stateless Children

The exact number of families currently going through this situation cannot be determined but a coordinator of a support group for couples in transnational marriages, who wants to remain anonymous, said that the ones who contacted them are usually cases of children born overseas to Malaysian mothers, couples who got married overseas and did not know that they had to register their marriage at the Malaysian High Commission, and children born before the registration of marriage.

As the citizenship application of children born overseas to Malaysian mothers is fraught with delays and rejections, the coordinator could only advice for the mothers to give birth in Malaysia as the wait for the result of the citizenship application is just too long.

“It is better for Malaysian mothers who want their children to have Malaysian citizenship to come to Malaysia and have their babies here.

“Waiting for 2 years for the result of the application of their child’s citizenship is way too long,” she said.

Sometimes the long wait is fruitless as the application is rejected without a reason and as such mothers may resubmit the same documents only to receive another rejection.

“We have anecdotal evidence of many such rejections and children are now 4-6 years old without being able to be admitted into kindergartens.

“In some cases the mothers out of frustration end up, and do not want their children to be stateless in a foreign country and need travel documents, without much choice, allow for the child to taken on citizenship of the foreign father.

“Consequently, if that marriage does not work and the Malaysian mother decides to bring the child to Malaysia, life will be fraught with problems from admission into Government schools to health care and follow throughout the child’s life,” she shared.

Hoping that the gender bias laws and the rule applicable to men in passing on citizenship to children born overseas would also be enjoyed by women, the coordinator also wants the policy to be more transparent so that the whole process would be much faster.

“There should be a more transparent policy and parents should be informed of the prerequisites to the citizenship.

“Parents should not be made to wait for two years for a response for the result of the citizenship application for their children, only to get rejected without being given the reason for rejection and then go through the process all over again,” she stressed.

For illustration purposes only. Filepic: Sinar HarianFor illustration purposes only. Filepic: Sinar Harian

The inconsistencies in the application process is also among the reasons why parents are in the loop over the status of their child and parents hope that this would be addressed

As pointed out by Alya, the Malaysian mother of a currently stateless 8-year-old son who was born in the US, more consistency and transparency in the application process is needed as any delays can have long term detrimental effects on their children's mental health.

“Parents have every right to be aware of the latest update in regards to their child's citizenship. So it's only right that they inform us of the duration, status and progress.

“For my family, we have been waiting for five years and it is too much; the department is screwing with my son's future!

“As a mother, I know it hurts him to know that his other siblings are Malaysian citizens yet he remains to be stateless. So they need to understand when such incidences occur, it affects the child's future, emotions and mental state.

“No child deserves that; for a country that preaches about the innocence of a child, they have proven yet again how utterly inconsistent they are in protecting children's right,” Alya appealed.