Dutch couple’s MM2H nightmare
DAILY EXPRESS NEWS
Kota Kinabalu: Any other couple would have given up, but a Dutch couple’s love for Sabah and its people was so great that they were willing to put up with endless frustrations just to qualify for the Malaysia My Second Home programme (MM2H).
And it is thanks to their perseverance that the Malaysian and Sabah economy, in particular, is today richer by some RM1 million.
However, they cautioned that the Government’s sincere efforts in attracting people like them to take up residence under the MM2H would not bear the desired results if current front-line attitudes prevail and inconsistencies in the programme’s conditions are not ironed out.
Martin Schapendonk and Lien van de Sande said if it was not for the good hospitality they received at the Tanjung Aru Beach Resort where they were regular visitors - sometimes spending RM15,000 for up to six weeks - plus finding out how warm Sabahans really are, they would have chosen another country, instead.
Speaking from their Wakiki Condominuim home, the couple who have visited other nations, said the policy, based on their experience, was not only inconsistent but also not well understood even among those entrusted with implementing it.
Having holidayed in Langkawi, Penang, Melaka, Pahang and Terengganu since 1997 before deciding to see what Sabah had to offer two years later, they were surprised to learn that the conditions under the MM2H for those wanting to reside in the peninsula were also different from that in East Malaysia.
Even within states in the peninsula it was different with some requiring house purchase of RM250,000 and less for some others.
“The MM2H programme is very good for Malaysia because the people who come here under this have the money to spend. And if you consider the amount of money we have spent in Malaysia, it is a real fortune,” he said.
According to the couple who operate a lucrative all-Mercedes taxi and coach business in Holland, their 14 trips to Malaysia and investment easily amount to between RM800,000 and RM1m.
“But it begs the question of whether it has been worth the frustrations. Your country should be happy because all that money is spent in the country and keeps many people employed,” he said.
Upon returning to Holland after a second holiday in Sabah in 1999, Lien felt that Sabah is the place to retire. That was when their frustrations began.
“I started faxing to the Immigration Depatment in Kuala Lumpur to inquire about the MM2H programme but did not get proper answers. So I decided to find out from the Malaysian Embassy in the Hague and they, in turn, asked me to contact the Malaysian High Commission in London which again was helpless,” he said.
"In the brochures, it is stated that those wanting to inquire about the MM2H can ask the embassy, high commission or tourism office for help and fill up the form. Hence, imagine being told by the High Commission staff in London to do it ourselves over in Malaysia because they did not have such forms.
“Even your embassies don’t seem to know what they are doing.”
Taking the advice of the High Commission staff, they thought they would have better luck during their next visit to Langkawi.
“I contacted the Immigration Department in KL while in Langkawi and again asked how to go about getting a visa under the programme and the officer said it can be issued within half hour if I came to see him in KL personally.”
Martin flew over from Langkawi the next day and upon meeting the Immigration Officer, was told that since he preferred to live in Sabah, he would have to apply for his visa in Kota Kinabalu.
This was despite having stated clearly in his letter to the Department earlier that he wished to live in Sabah! “So I spent a whole day in KL without any result.”
Still not deterred, the couple decided to apply for it in KK but once over here, the Immigration Officer said they needed to first open a bank account citing rules that they had to prove they have a certain income abroad.
“This was not a problem because I still need a bank account anyway if I am to make any investments here,” he said. However, this was the beginning of a new round of frustrations.
Both at Maybank and at Public Bank, they were told by bank officers that they cannot open a bank account without first getting a visa. So it was back to the Immigration Dept where the officer insisted that no visa could be issued if they had no bank account in the first place.
"We then decided to try the HSBC but the bank was only prepared to open an account for RM300 deposit pending obtaining a visa. “The officer in HSBC said if we did not get our visa, then we will lose the RM300.”
Since it at least meant that they finally had a bank account, they returned to the Immigration Dept but the officer told them that the RM300 deposit amount was not good enough.
"I said to him I wanted to put in more money the bank wouldn’t let me since I had no visa but still the Officer insisted that I am allowed to put a higher amount.
"I was starting to get angry by then with all the shuttling between the Immigration and the banks. Just then a more senior Immigration officer said he will issue us a letter to be forwarded to the bank but that this will only be ready at 3pm.
“At that point, we were very seriously considering to stop pursuing the MM2H. It cost us half a day each time shuttling between the Immigration and the banks,” Martin said.
They told the officer that they will collect the letter at 9am the next day and if the banks still won’t do it, then all of them would go to KL the next day to see the Immigration Director.
“I said to him if we were wrong, we shall pay for the return airfare plus stay in a five-star hotel but that if he was wrong he will have to pay the bill and he said okay. But to our surprise, when we showed up as scheduled, our visa was ready!”
Martin said another thing they could not comprehend about the MM2H programme is why are there different stipulations applicable to different states. He claimed that the rules also seem to keep on changing.
“Before we were told that we were allowed to bring in a vehicle duty-free. Then we found out that this is possible only six months after obtaining a visa. What should be easier is to provide a MM2H identity card.”
Despite having obtained a visa, the problem is far from over for the Schapendonks. Because the validity of Dutch passports is only for five years, unlike for other European countries which is 10 years, they would have to go through the entire MM2H process again in due course, i.e. apply for a new visa.
Which means once more having to undergo medical check and proving income abroad despite having invested in property here. “By then perhaps we would have even retired. Does it mean we no longer qualify despite our investment and for which we went through the legal channel, including getting approval from the Foreign Investment Committee (FIC)?”
Martin said in fact they are put at a disadvantage because nowhere is it stated whether they would be able to recoup their investments should they decide to pull out.
Ironically, they said they bumped into many visitors while here who enjoy their stay in Malaysia without having gone through the MM2H programme. I understand some of them even own properties.
“Many people (from Europe) will surely like to come here and even buy holiday apartments, etc, but would be put off if they have to face the kind of hassles that we had to put up with.”
Immigration officials were not available for comment.