West Malaysia’s ‘stringent’ residency visa stirs growing foreigner interest in Sarawak, Sabah alternatives

Launched in 2002, MM2H’s affordable requirements and attractive incentives made it the world’s most popular golden visa. In 2020, investment news outlet IMI described MM2H as the world’s largest investment migration programme by a “wide margin”.

But when COVID-19 hit, Malaysia temporarily suspended the MM2H programme in August 2020, in line with a government decision to bar foreigners from entering the country, and to allow it to comprehensively review the programme.

A revised MM2H was finally announced a year later in September 2021 with much more stringent requirements.

The minimum fixed deposit and monthly offshore income requirement was raised to RM1 million and RM40,000 respectively. In addition, applicants would have to prove ownership of liquid assets worth at least RM1.5 million.

MM2H applications dropped in 2022 as prospective applicants baulked at the stringent requirements and turned to a lesser-known but more affordable programme in Sarawak, MM2H agents told CNA.

Sarawak has its own version of MM2H (Sarawak-MM2H) because it has autonomy over its own immigration policies.

The programme at the time only required applicants to fulfil a minimum fixed deposit or monthly offshore income requirement. Furthermore, Sarawak-MM2H holders only needed to spend 15 days a year in Sarawak, and could travel freely to West Malaysia the rest of the time.

In October 2023, with MM2H applications down by 90 per cent, the federal government decided to suspend the programme again, pending a review.

It released new requirements in December that year, turning MM2H into a three-tiered programme, with the most affordable silver tier requiring a minimum fixed deposit of RM500,000.

While the new requirements addressed some pain points, prospective applicants were not entirely convinced, citing a lack of clarity on the offshore income and liquid asset requirements, and a desire to wait for a full list of requirements to be published.

This full list was only published on Jun 15 this year, with the federal Tourism, Arts and Culture Minister Tiong King Sing saying his ministry had taken a considerable amount of time to review and rectify “shortcomings” of previous MM2H conditions.

The offshore income and liquid asset requirements were scrapped across all tiers, but for the silver tier, the minimum fixed deposit sum was raised, and a property purchase requirement was introduced.

Meanwhile, participants across all categories of the MM2H scheme are not eligible to apply for permanent residency – a change from the December announcement that allowed those in the platinum tier to do so. 

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