KUALA LUMPUR (Reuters Life!) - Foreign sex workers in Malaysia are paying local men up to $1,500 a month to become their husbands so that they can stay on in the country to ply their trade, the New Straits Times newspaper said on Tuesday.
Under immigration laws, foreign spouses of Malaysians are initially given three-month visas before eventually obtaining year-long permits, which are renewed automatically.
Immigration Department Director General Abdul Rahman Othman told the newspaper that the prostitutes had taken on husbands to become eligible for long-term visas.
And although prostitution is illegal in Malaysia, the women cannot be prosecuted under immigration laws because their marriages are legal, Othman said. They can, however, be prosecuted under vice laws.
He said foreign sex workers could make up to 20,000 ringgit ($6,000) a month and that 5,000 ringgit ($1,500) a month for "marriages of convenience" was nothing compared to what they would lose if they had to leave the country to renew visas.
The newspaper said that recent raids by immigration officers on brothels revealed that only one of 25 foreign women rounded up had a genuine marriage.
"Checks reveal that they knew nothing about these so-called husbands and their husbands can't even recall the names of the wives off-hand," Othman said, adding that the department will conduct random checks on the couples to check whether their marriages were real.
Prostitution is illegal in Malaysia but many spas and karaoke bars double up as brothels. Local media reports the sex industry raked in more than 3.2 billion Malaysia ringgit ($963.8 million) in 2008.
Reporting by Niluksi Koswanage, editing by Miral Fahmy