Bangladesh on Wednesday expressed shock at Malaysia's decision to revoke work visas for more than 55,000 Bangladeshis, a move aimed at filling those jobs with Malaysians facing layoffs.
Home Minister Syed Hamid Albar on Tuesday ordered the visas for 55,147 Bangladeshis approved in 2007 to be canceled to stave off unemployment at home, which is expected to rise to 4.5 percent from 3.7 percent last year.
All those workers are still in Bangladesh, and were waiting to replace compatriots returning from Malaysia after their visas expired.
Talat Mahmud Khan, labor counselor with the Bangladesh High Commission, said the workers would have worked on plantations and construction sites _ jobs Malaysians shun because of the hard work and long hours.
"This approval was given by the Malaysian government ... and now all of a sudden they stopped everything. I'm pretty much shocked about this," he told The Associated Press. "Plantations always need foreign workers."
He said many workers had paid in advance at least part of the recruiting fees, usually a sum equivalent to more than $2,000.
"They have lost a lot," he said. "Their families will be ruined."
Syed Hamid said Tuesday that foreign labor was not needed because of the global economic crisis, adding that levies paid by Malaysian companies to recruit the workers would be refunded.
The Malaysian Employers Federation and other groups contend that foreign workers, who make up a fifth of the country's 11 million-strong work force, are still needed.
Together with an estimated 1 million illegals, they work mainly on plantations, construction sites, factories and restaurants. Malaysia froze the intake of new foreign workers in the manufacturing and service sectors in January.
Khan said about 400,000 Bangladeshis still work in Malaysia. They have traditionally worked in factories, restaurants and gasoline stations, but Khan said many now had learned to tap rubber and harvest palm oil.