KUALA LUMPUR | The Human Resources Ministry is initiating a study of the social and economic impact of low-skilled foreigners employed in the country as their numbers near two million.

The ministry said its labour market arm, Institute of Labour Market Information and Analysis, will be holding focal group discussions, workshops and town hall sessions to collect data on public feedback on the jobs, wages, productivity, health, crime involving foreign workers among others.

“The Ministry of Human Resources (MOHR) has its ears on the ground and is aware of the mounting criticism over Malaysia’s continued over-reliance on foreign workers, particularly over the seeming inability of the Government to substantially reduce the numbers.

“Some of this resentment is justified but some are due to misconceptions over the present Government’s stand and preferred approach,” it said in a statement to explain the reason for the study.

The report is expected to be ready by February next year.

The ministry said government records show there are 1,927,486 low-skilled foreigners working in Malaysia as at May 31.

It added that manufacturing hires the majority of them at 34.7 per cent followed by construction at nearly a quarter or 23.4 per cent.

Low-skilled foreigners are also employed in the services sector (16.4 per cent), plantations (14.6 per cent) and agriculture (8.3 per cent).

The two biggest countries supplying Malaysia with workers are Indonesia at 35 per cent and Bangladesh at 28 per cent.

The ministry said Malaysia’s foreign hires were supposed to be a short-term measure when it started importing workers in the 1970s when it made the shift towards industrialisation, but their steady increase in the 1980s was when employers saw them as cheap labour.

The ministry said the study is important to find data to corroborate claims that the high foreign workers will negatively impact Malaysia’s leap into a high-income nation.