updated 1/20/2008 6:01:13 PM ET 2008-01-20T23:01:13

Malaysia plans to send home 200,000 foreign workers this year to increase job opportunities for its own citizens, a senior government official said Sunday.

The government will apply stricter standards for the hiring of foreign workers to reduce their number to 1.8 million next year and to 1.5 million by 2015, said Raja Azahar Raja Abdul Manap, the Home Affairs Ministry secretary-general.

Malaysia relies heavily on foreigners for menial work and is one of Southeast Asia's top labor markets, with foreigners comprising 2.02 million of its work force of 11 million. Hundreds of thousands more work illegally in the country.

"We will be strict now," Raja Azahar told The Associated Press. "We have been liberal in the past and allowed employers to cut costs with cheaper foreign labor, but now they have to turn to locals and pay a reasonable salary based on supply and demand."

He said skilled foreign workers will be allowed to stay up to 10 years, but unskilled workers who have been in the country more than five years will not have their permits renewed _ a measure that could cut the number of foreign workers by 200,000 this year.

However, there will be no limit to how long foreign maids can stay, he said.

Plantation Minister Peter Chin Fah Kui has expressed concern that foreign workers are dominating plantations in the country, accounting for more than 500,000 of some 800,000 workers, The Sunday Star newspaper said.

"Malaysians give plantation jobs low priority. This misconception has resulted in more foreigners taking over these jobs every year," he was quoted as saying. "We must reverse this trend or else our plantations and estates will end up being controlled by foreigners."

Some labor unions have complained that Malaysian workers have been deprived of jobs because employers prefer to recruit cheaper foreign labor.

© 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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