• It’s better late than never for us to get back in the game. Motac’s renewed ownership of MM2H and the one-stop centre are a sound start.

Kudos to the government for coming around in acknowledging that the Malaysia My Second Home programme (MM2H) in its present form is not going to fly.

The Ministry of Tourism, Arts and Culture (Motac) recently announced that the current criteria that were tightened in 2021 would be reviewed for a more flexible programme.

The decision was reached following a meeting between Motac and the Ministry of Home Affairs. It has also been decided that a one-stop centre would be created under Motac to promote, filter and streamline MM2H applications, making it easier for prospective participants. The one-stop centre will also help collate applicants’ information for scrutiny by the Ministry of Home Affairs or the Immigration Department before an MM2H pass is issued.

In short, the Ministry of Home Affairs will work hand in hand with Motac to make MM2H applications smooth and easy. This makes a lot of sense. Only when the government machinery works holistically can we hope for the best bang for the buck. By extension, working in silos devoid of consultation with stakeholders tends to be an effort in futility.

A quick recap: MM2H was rolled out in 2002 to attract foreigners to retire and live in Malaysia for an extended period of time. It replaced the failed Silver Hair programme initiated in 1987 to attract those at least 55 years old from Japan and Western European countries.

Over the years, MM2H had been chugging slowly along, with lukewarm promotional efforts from the government. In August 2020, the government put the brakes on the programme, suspending it abruptly for a review. Uncertainty over the fate of the programme only ended slightly more than a year later on Oct 1, 2021. The programme resumed with significantly stricter criteria said to enable the government to attract “high quality participants”.

Understandably, the stiffer criteria was greeted with furore from industry players and participants alike. Overnight, existing MM2H participants who were unable to meet the new criteria found themselves in a bind. The backlash very quickly led the government to bend the rules somewhat, but only for existing participants. 

(Read also: The REAL deal: Get MM2H right once and for all)

As Malaysia was busy vacillating between welcoming and putting roadblocks in the way of people mulling the setting up of a second home in the country, the window of opportunity for MM2H narrowed. Despite being one of the early promoters of such a programme, Malaysia was relegated to the shadows while numerous other countries went into overdrive wooing foreigners. That said, it’s better late than never for us to get back in the game. Motac’s renewed ownership of MM2H and the one-stop centre are a sound start.

It’s now or never

Reports say MM2H applications have plunged by as much as 90% since the introduction of the new criteria. It is not immediately known how many of the existing participants will pack up and leave when their passes expire.

Notably, the about-turn coincided with the change of MM2H ownership from Motac to the Ministry of Home Affairs. While the country’s security cannot be compromised in any way, how is the Ministry of Home Affairs suitably equipped to drive the programme?

Unless there have been changes made to MM2H, the aspirations and benefits of the programme are clear. It is geared towards attracting retirees and others who are financially secure and wish to have the luxury of a second home in another part of the world — those seeking a home away from home and who meet our criteria. Simple as that.

In the process, not only will participants help drive our economy, they will also become our ambassadors. Positive word of mouth is powerful.

Based on its current criteria, MM2H is not very far from the government’s Premium Visa Programme (PVIP) introduced on Oct 1, 2022 — a year after MM2H’s unpopular revamp. The PVIP is a “Residency Through Investment” programme intended to drive the country’s economic growth by bringing in wealthy foreigners to invest and reside in Malaysia for 20 years. In short, PVIP is to incentivise foreign investors to set up shop in Malaysia. Where does that leave MM2H?

Communication skills critical

First impressions not only count but also linger. Hence, it is important that all MM2H frontliners are adequately trained. Not only must the team members be knowledgeable on the programme and its application process, they must promote the country at every available opportunity. Extending warm Malaysian hospitality is a good start.

Communication skills are critical. Putting ourselves in the shoes of a potential applicant, nothing is more off-putting than an encounter with a Malaysian official ignorant or nonchalant about what the country has to offer.

Meanwhile, meeting with any government official on MM2H would be preceded by checks on the programme on the internet. At the time of writing, I googled “MM2H Malaysia” and was pointed to the website of the Immigration Department, which offers details of the programme application. Informative enough but, sadly, not very welcoming. In contrast, the aha moment is found on the websites of consultants who help foreigners with their applications.

Motac has a lot of work to do to revive MM2H. For starters, the impending relaxation of criteria must be communicated to those involved, along with the government’s intention to ease and expedite the application process. Speed up the setting up of the one-stop centre. Reach out to stakeholders for feedback on ways to popularise the programme.

Come up with a marketing plan if there isn’t one yet. Take its promotion abroad, leveraging our diplomatic presence.

On the home front, constantly engage with and survey stakeholders on how MM2H is faring and what areas need to be improved. The list goes on and on.

The ball is now in Motac’s court. Let’s get serious and get it right. That’s the real deal.

Au Foong Yee ([email protected]) is an editor emeritus at The Edge

This article first appeared in Forum, The Edge Malaysia Weekly, on May 1-7, 2023.

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