Will physical separation continue in the "new normal" along with social distancing, mask wearing, and video calls?
Malaysians have seen visual changes in our "new normal" with posters on social distancing and QR code check-ins plastered on shop fronts. Masking up has also created a clinical separation with our surroundings.
A further separation was felt for binational families (a family whose members are in different countries) when strict policies on international flights for the last 18 months halted nearly all relationship-related travel.
Many of these families fear that the lack of initiative to change travel rulings to exempt reunification of families will keep their situation unchanged, even in a transition to the "new normal".
It was not until recently that several Ministers and members of Parliament (MPs) responded to the strong social media presence of the Facebook group Love Is Not Tourism Malaysia (LINTM), that has been urging a review of the travel guidelines for binational families. The co-founders of the group, Elise and Crystal Au, are sharing their thoughts on why LINTM was created and what they hope to achieve from here.
Many individuals have faced issues with the MyTravelPass (MTP) procedure to enter and exit Malaysia, even with long-term plans such as marriage and relocation
LINTM is part of a larger Love Is Not Tourism (LINT) network pushing for countries to allow travel for binational families. Elise and Crystal connected on a LINT Discord channel and decided to co-create a Malaysian chapter on July 2020 to connect people in similar situations as them. This drew a strong crowd to the current 7.7k members consisting of separated couples (married and unmarried) and family members.
The Immigration Department of Malaysia introduced the MTP in October 2020 to streamline the process of applying for permission to enter or exit Malaysia. While Elise cites that the introduction of the MTP initially saw an improvement in travel approvals for marriage and overseas job offers to reunite couples, she notes that 2021 has seen a higher rejection response.
LINTM members have also raised concerns over recent processing times longer than the 14 days promised, with some members having to repeatedly email for updates. Unclear instructions to what documents necessitate an approval, and a lack of feedback and resources also contribute to the confusion as to why travel for long-term plans are being rejected as "non-essential".
Repeated applications facing rejection have caused unhappiness, break-ups, and divorce over the uncertainty of when couples will be able to meet. Members who have made sacrifices on career, relocation, and finances are wanting to raise awareness on how their travel is not for leisure but to reunite with family. A final MTP rejection disrupts their already complicated travel plans.
LINTM became a platform for updates, resource sharing, and public engagement
Elise and Crystal made clear the group's purpose has always been to connect members and publicly engage the travel issue. Since LINTM's creation 14 months ago, the group have used Twitter, Instagram, and email to engage various Ministers and MPs for a review on travel restrictions for binational families.
"We feel it would be better to get an exemption for couples and families to reunite rather than spending months applying and getting rejected," both admins comment. This repeated application process has created a sheer volume of 356,510 applications since MTP was introduced, as cited by the Immigration Department.
Engagements with various Ministers brought the reunification issues of Malaysian families to Parliament.
The group hopes that this momentum continues to reunite all their members.
Silence around LINTM's online social media drive resigned both admins to think their situation would not change. It was not until September 2021 that the group was receiving tags and mentions from MPs such as Syed Saddiq and Ministers such as Saifuddin Abdullah.
"We were quite surprised when they suddenly started responding and raising this issue in Parliament and other meetings – but we're very happy to see their support and effort in getting this problem resolved soon," both admins remark.
Elise and Crystal stress they would want to see all relationship-related travel considered equally and as essential – for both married and unmarried couples in serious long-term relationships, parents wanting to see their children, and spouses relocating. Many of these individuals are making major life decisions and it should not be seen as tourism.
In terms of how long the group will remain active, the admins comment, "As long as certain groups of couples still can't reunite, we have a purpose to continue advocating for. Once all binational Malaysian couples and families are able to reunite, then I think [LINTM] would have fulfilled [its] purpose."
This story is a personal opinion of the writer and does not reflect the position of SAYS.
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The pandemic has been difficult on many families, with so many being kept apart by travel restrictions: