It all started five years ago when Malaysia’s Home Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi outsourced a private company (Ultra Kirana Sdn Bhd) which required Nepali migrant workers to apply for work visas through a Kathmandu-based affiliate, Malaysia VLN Nepal. The agency charged Rs3,200 from every Malaysia-bound Nepali worker, and collected Rs 1.95 billion from more than 600,000 workers between September 2013 and April 2018.
Then in July 2015, Malaysia made it mandatory for all Nepali migrants to undergo a biometric test. The Malaysian government hired Bestinet Sdn Bhd, a tech firm run by Malaysian Home Minister Hamidi’s brother-in-law Amin Bin Abdul Nor, for biometric health screening. Minister Hamidi’s brother Abdul Hakim Hamidi and ex-Malaysian Environment Minister Ajmi Khalid also reportedly owned shares in Bestinet.
Bestinet partnered with Nepal Health Professional Federation (NHPF) to carry out biometric screening through 39 medical centres which charged Rs4,500 from each migrant worker for biometrics. Bestinet and NHPF have already collected over Rs1 billion from over 200,000 Nepali workers.
Previously, migrant workers could have applied for visas independently or through any manpower agency . They could get a visa for just Rs700. They could get medical tests from any of 200 government-approved health facilities. But after Malaysia required private companies for visa processing and biometric screening, workers were forced to pay much more.
The real scam involved the lack of transparency in Malaysia and in Nepal on the choice of the private companies hired to facilitate this process, which ended up fleecing workers.
While in Malaysia the companies were partly-owned by relatives of politicians, in Nepal bureaucrats and politicians benefited from kickbacks for sanctioning the new system. Fees were added on arbitrarily, and all involved in the syndicate in the two countries divided up the profits.
For example, the Rs3,200 visa processing fee did not cover all visa-related costs of a migrant worker. In May 2016, Malaysia hired another private company, One Stop Centre (OSC) to collect visa forms and passports and drop them at its embassy in Kathmandu. The OSC chose the same Malaysia VLN Nepal for this job, which added an extra fee of Rs2,800 from each applicant.
Bestinet has also been allowed to charge each migrant worker Rs3,200 just for scanning passports, fingerprinting and an additional Rs3,500 to upload the data online. Bestinet’s Kathmandu-based agent, GSG Nepal, scans passports and fingerprints for all Malaysia-bound migrant workers. Bestinet in turn collaborated with labour recruitment agencies in Kathmandu and has so far collected over Rs1.3 billion in fees for passport and fingerprints scanning, and online data entry.