BSc International, Social and Public Policy
Department of Social Policy
Jimin is working with SEAC Associate Dr Sin Yee Koh (Senior Lecturer in Global Studies, School of Arts and Social Sciences, Monash University Malaysia) for her project entitled, "Lifestyle Im/mobilities in/to Malaysia in the COVID-19 Era"
Over the last two decades, Malaysia has emerged as a popular lifestyle mobility destination for middle-class individuals and families (e.g., retirement migrants, lifestyle migrants with school-going children, seasonal migrants with second homes in Malaysia). Generally, these ‘migrants’ are attracted by the relatively affordable cost of living, the quality of education and medical care, the tropical climate, and the ease of everyday living in Malaysia (e.g., use of English, presence of co-ethnic/co-national communities, ability to practice their faith). Their stays in Malaysia are assisted by favourable visa programmes such as the Malaysia My Second Home (MM2H) visa which allows long-term residence (for the individual, spouse, and dependent children), residential property ownership, part-time work, and investments in Malaysia.
Since its inception in 2002, the MM2H programme has had about 45,000 successful applicants. From 2012 to 2018, the top three source countries of MM2H migrants were China (41.0% share), Japan (12.3% share), and Bangladesh (8.0% share). While potential MM2H applicants can apply directly to the programme, many would apply through licensed MM2H agents that are familiar with the programme and can offer related services to facilitate their lifestyle mobilities to Malaysia (e.g., property acquisition, rental management, international school enrolment, car rental). Indeed, my previous research finds that such agents are an essential part of the migration industry, that is, an ensemble of actors offering for-profit or in-kind services – often specialised – that facilitates migrants’ physical and capital mobilities to Malaysia (Koh, 2017; forthcoming).
In an attempt to manage the spread of the Covid-19 pandemic, Malaysia has imposed international travel and local movement restrictions. The MM2H programme has been suspended till further notice, and there are uncertainties surrounding related sectors (e.g., education, medical tourism). These new restrictions, policy changes and uncertainties have produced different impacts to the current and planned mobilities of lifestyle migrants. More importantly, these broader changes could fundamentally alter lifestyle mobility trends in/to Malaysia as well as regionally in Southeast Asia.
Situated in this context, this pilot study explores the impacts of Covid-19 related travel and other restrictions from two perspectives. On the one hand, it explores the im/mobility experiences and future mobility plans of two ‘migrant’ groups: (1) lifestyle migrants who are already living in Malaysia; and (2) aspiring lifestyle migrants to Malaysia. On the other hand, it explores how public and private agents in the lifestyle migration industry are responding to Covid-19 related restrictions and uncertainties in the short and medium term. In doing so, it seeks to understand how transnational lifestyle im/mobility trends in/to Malaysia have been shaped and influenced by the Covid-19 pandemic. Its findings could enrich extant migration industry literature and identify policy implications.