Citizenship in Malaysia

As we celebrate Independence and Malaysia Day in August and September, we feel a sense of pride and patriotism from within. Being a citizen of a country gives us an identity and a place where we belong to call home.

However, there are some children who are born in Malaysia but are not called ‘Anak Malaysia’. In recent years, we have seen an uprise in the issue of Citizenship in Malaysia.

In 2014, there was a 6-year-old boy who sued the government as he was not given Malaysian citizenship. He was being born out of lawful wedlock between his foreigner mother and Malaysian father in Penang. He waited almost 11 years for his letter of approval from the Home Ministry verifying his Citizenship status.

In 2020, a young girl was only granted citizenship after a 10-year wait, although she was born to Malaysian parents. She was not recognized as a Malaysian, whereas all her older/ younger siblings were given the rights and status of a citizen, merely because she was home-birthed.

How does one obtain citizenship?

The laws on Citizenship in Malaysia are listed in the Federal Constitution that serves as the supreme law of the land. Articles 14-31 provide the criteria and requirements regarding Citizenship in Malaysia, but in short, Malaysian citizenship is obtained in 2 ways, namely registration and naturalization.

  1. Operation of law & Registration
    A child who has fulfilled the legal requirements under the law shall obtain citizenship by registration, as according to Article 14 of the Federal Constitution, an individual may claim Malaysian citizenship by operation of law.This is the most straightforward and hassle-free process. All that is required is to register at the National Registration Department (JPN- Jabatan Pendaftaran Negara in BM). Usually, when a child is born, the parents would have obtained a birth certificate from JPN, and once the child turns 12, they can apply for a MyKad.Non-citizens may also acquire Malaysian citizenship by registration under Articles 15, 15A and 16 of the Federal Constitution. This includes the registration of a non-citizen wife and child of a Malaysian citizen (Art. 15), registration of an individual who has not attained 21 years old but under exceptional circumstances, and the registration of a person born in the Federation before 31 August 1957.
  2. Naturalization
    Citizenship by naturalization is usually offered to foreigners with no Malaysian connections or origins. They may obtain citizenship if they fulfil the legal requirements, which include but are not limited to:-

    1. Attain the age of 21;
    2. Reside in Malaysia for a period of more than 10 years in the 12 years immediately preceding the date of application; and
    3. Has adequate knowledge of the Malay language.


You may be wondering why it is crucial to obtain citizenship status. This is because, without a Malaysian passport or IC, one might not be able to enjoy the rights and privileges granted to the citizens. The young child might not even be able to get formal education or even leave the country. Most importantly, they will not belong to any country and will have no place to call home!

We should appreciate the privilege to be called a Malaysian. However, although you may already be granted citizenship, it may also be taken away in rare and specific circumstances that are also listed in the Federal Constitution.

If you have any questions or require any additional information, please contact our lawyer that you usually deal with.

This article is written by 
Cassandra Lee Tze Hui
Associate, Low & Partners
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