KUALA LUMPUR: More than 300 international students of International Islamic University Malaysia (IIUM) have yet to receive their passports after submitting them to the university's visa unit for visa renewal.
Former IIUM student union member Abdulrahman Baaqeel claimed that the university's visa unit did not give the students a deadline on when the issue could be resolved.
"I am one of the affected students. I submitted my passport on April 14 and I have not received it back since then. Because of the expiry of my visa, I am not able to enter the Petronas plant in Pengerang, Johor, where I was supposed to intern. I was not able to have a whole internship experience due to that," he said.
Abdulrahman said many of the affected students were living in fear because they did not have their passports.
"Some were denied treatment at hospitals because they do not have passports, others cannot go back to their countries and some are overstaying as their visa has expired.
"They cannot go out of the campus because as a foreigner, their passport is the only document that they have to prove their identity.
"It has been a month since we raised the issue publicly and to date, only 35 students have managed to get their passports back. We have been kept in the dark on the process and we do not know how much longer we need to wait.
"We want the issue to be solved as soon as possible," he said.
IIUM alumni Syahmi Sapperi said this has been a perennial issue for many years.
"This is not the first time such an issue has occurred. I graduated in 2013 and the same problem has been happening since then. But this is the worst so far, maybe due to the pandemic.
"My foreign friends from different countries have told me their stories on how much of a hassle it is to deal with the visa unit to renew their visas.
"They said it was a nightmare to deal with the staff there. They have no choice but to go through the visa unit as international students are not able to renew their visas by themselves at the Immigration Department," he said.
He said from what he had seen in IIUM groups on social media, the affected students were facing a hard time.
"They are living in a 'prison' as they dare not step out of the campus. Some of them could not further their studies in other countries because of this issue, and some, particularly the first-year students, are having financial problems because they are not able to open a bank account without their passport.
"As an alumnus, I am very disappointed over how the visa unit handled the issue. They have failed to help the students. We hope the issue can be resolved quickly and the university needs to revamp its visa unit so that the same problem will not recur."
The IIUM Student Union had demanded concrete action from the university, including timely and transparent updates encompassing all affected students.
"Four advisories have been issued by the university. In the said advisories, the university promised to take prompt action in resolving the visa issue faced by its foreign students.
"Despite the students' effort to publicly share their displeasure and bring attention to this issue, only 35 out of 391 students have received back their passports, which is a minimal number," the union said in a statement.
The union said the university had yet to provide affected students with frequent, clear and comprehensive updates on the procedure.
"The students have been extremely patient, however, significant changes have yet to be seen, and the process is also gradually slowing down and becoming more complex.
"More than 300 students have yet to receive a response to their cases. The (affected) students also have to sign letters of undertaking, which may have legal consequences."
The union also demanded the university management to improve its visa unit and strengthen the cooperation and relationship between affected students, university and other relevant authorities.
However, the IIUM communications, advocacy and promotion office said the visa renewal process for the students was going smoothly.
"We are in the process of solving the issue, and it is going smoothly, some of the affected students have received their visas, and cooperation with all parties and relevant agencies is going well," the office told the New Straits Times.
It however did not state when the issue would be completely resolved.