MM2H visa changes: Welcome cautiously, with lingering questions

Penang is situated in Malaysia. Amid diverse reactions from foreign nationals desiring to establish permanent residence in Malaysia or extend an existing one, the declaration of revised conditions for a highly sought-after residential and retirement visa evoked a range of sentiments.

A murmur of relief was emitted by numerous expatriates attracted to the Southeast Asian nation due to its pleasant climate, renowned cuisine, and fusion of Malay, Chinese, Indian, and Indigenous influences upon the announcement of “relaxed” requirements for Malaysia My Second Home (MM2H).

However, after anticipating clarification regarding modifications to the programme for almost a year, certain potential candidates were dismayed to discover that crucial information was omitted from the earlier announcement this month. Such details included whether specific asset and income requirements will be applicable, as well as whether applicants aged 50 and above are eligible.

“A few matters remain to be clarified, but the new regulations make the visa programme accessible to a much larger population,” Andy Davison, CEO of TEG Media, an expat-focused publisher, told.

“The monthly income requirement is the greatest obstacle for the majority of applicants seeking to utilise the current MM2H visa.”

After its inception in 2002, the MM2H programme granted foreign nationals the opportunity to reside in Malaysia for a maximum of ten years, contingent upon specific wealth and investment criteria. Within its initial sixteen years of operation, approximately 57,000 applications were granted.

However, the programme has been in a continuous “evaluation” phase since 2018. In 2020, it was completely halted due to the COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent closures of borders.

Revamping MM2H: Easier Access, Lower Deposits, and Residency Options

In 2021, stricter regulations reinstated the programme, mandating that applicants possess a minimum monthly income of 40,000 Malaysian ringgit ($8,662), up from 10,000 ringgit ($2,165) previously. This increased requirement effectively disqualified the majority of applicants, particularly retirees, from consideration.

Two years after the modification, the number of applications for the programme decreased by ninety percent.

It appears that Tourism Minister Tiong King Sing’s December 13 changes make MM2H more appealing to expats.

As per the modified programme, the minimum age requirement for visa applicants has been increased from 35 to 30 years.

In contrast to the previous criterion of a fixed deposit of 1 million ringgit ($216,567) for MM2H eligibility, candidates are now presented with the option of depositing 500,000 ringgit ($108,283), 2 million ringgit ($433,135), or 5 million ringgit ($1,082,837) in accordance with three tiers: Silver, Gold, and Platinum.

The Silver and Gold tiers grant residency for terms of five and fifteen years, respectively. Whereas the Platinum tier boasts perpetual residency eligibility – a difficult status to attain in Malaysia.

The prior 90-day residency requirement for MM2H visa holders has been reduced to 60 days. Dependents, including a spouse or children, may satisfy this requirement.

Sweeping Changes to MM2H

“By introducing more flexibility and clarity, the aim is to streamline the frequently criticised MM2H application procedures,” Tiong said in a statement, adding that the announced modifications were preliminary and that the final eligibility requirements would be revealed in stages.

Tiong didn’t mention income or asset restrictions or a particular implementation date for the changes.

Sam Choong, a Penang-based attorney specialising in immigration affairs, told, “I concur with the Minister that the new criteria are indeed more transparent and straightforward.”

“With any luck, the previous onerous requirement of substantial monthly income documentation will not be reinstated during the implementation phase as an unwritten screening procedure to assess the financial standing of applicants prior to application consideration.”

Choong stated that he is “optimistic” that the government will not reinstate the visa’s prohibitive requirements.

“Although bank statements and letters of good conduct may remain required for the pre-screening phase to demonstrate that applicants can support themselves without becoming a financial burden on our nation, it is improbable that the previous financial threshold will be applied,” he explained.

“The most recent guidelines appear to indicate that it is currently satisfied through the corresponding fixed deposits.”

Incredibly good remarks

While MM2H demands applicants to commit a substantial sum of money for an extended period of time, after 12 months, pass holders of all categories will be permitted to withdraw a maximum of fifty percent of their deposit for property purchases, healthcare, and travel expenses.

A prospective applicant from the Philippines, Michael Santos, expressed his approval of the modifications that have been disclosed thus far.

“It should be more efficient than before and enable us to purchase property,” Santos explained. “The preceding criteria are essentially unattainable and unfeasible to fulfil.” In what manner can they appeal to investors who have the most stringent criteria?”

Permanent residency is notoriously difficult for foreigners to acquire in Malaysia. Davison said the Platinum tier’s permanent residency eligibility is one of the biggest concerns of the revamped plan.

Exploring the Path to Permanent Residency in Malaysia

“The initial inquiries that people will have are whether the application process will be straightforward and how long the process will take; these are undoubtedly matters of interest,” Davison said, adding that he had preferred to see the introduction of a retirement visa designed specifically for senior individuals.

A practical route to permanent residency in Malaysia would provide long-term foreign residents with tremendous peace of mind. This follows years of ambiguity regarding their ability to remain in the country permanently.

“Prior to the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, I obtained an MM2H visa; I am contemplating a Platinum reapplication.” “Obtaining PR [permanent residency] will finally guarantee me the ability to remain indefinitely in a country where I have spent the majority of my adult life,” an Italian MM2H visa holder requested anonymity.

“The conditions are not that stringent or onerous in comparison to other schemes in the region. They consist solely of a fixed deposit with no exorbitant one-time fees,” the Italian expat further elaborated.

“Despite harsh comments I’ve read, the ringgit has lost only 8% against the Euro over the past two decades. This loss has been more than offset by higher interest on fixed deposits.”

Concerns and Uncertainties Among Current MM2H Visa Holders

Due to the vagueness of the planned amendments, several visa holders are unsure about their next step.

“I possess an outdated MM2H from 2019 and pray that they do not jack us around and that we remain grandfathered with the original terms,” a British MM2H holder who requested anonymity told.

“In my humble opinion, the layering of the new laws/criteria is causing even more mischief and confusion. I have a feeling that Malaysia will fall behind Thailand, Indonesia, and possibly the Philippines on a logical ‘apples-to-apples’ comparison.”

Choong, the immigration attorney, stated that although the programme seemed to be progressing in the correct direction. Certain details must be clarified, such as whether pass holders would be permitted to work under specific conditions.

“Not every individual desires to spend the entire day playing golf. The clientele I serve possess an abundance of knowledge. Skill transfer or mentoring with a Malaysian native before the foreign visa holder starts work may benefit both parties. “It would also be beneficial to have a definition of what constitutes work,” he added.

One illustrative instance involves an individual residing in a Malaysian flat managing work remotely. Ultimately, he is not preventing a Malaysian from obtaining employment in Malaysia. Is it necessary for an individual performing remote offshore employment to file and remit tax returns? “Allowing offshore work might be a goldmine for us and the foreign national since we could collect tax.”

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