A Malaysian employers’ association has welcomed the announcement in the prime minister’s 2018 budget speech on Friday that households would soon be able to hire foreign domestic helpers directly from nine selected countries without going through an employment agent.

The decision is aimed at helping employers save up to half of the costs of hiring foreign maids, China Press reported on Monday. At present, it costs between 12,000 and 18,000 ringgit (US$2,835 to $4,255) for a Malaysian household to hire a foreign maid.

Employers will soon be able to apply for visas for foreign domestic helpers online, with no changes in the current processing fees, Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak said in his budget speech.

Deputy Prime Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi, who is also the minister of home affairs, said the nine countries from which direct hiring will be permitted were Indonesia, Sri Lanka, Laos, India, the Philippines, Vietnam, Thailand, Cambodia and Myanmar.

He said there would be security systems in place to filter out unwanted individuals, including through biometric and biomedical scanning systems.

According to a report by Nanyang Siang Pau (Malaysia), the Malaysian Maid Employers Association (MAMA) welcomed the policy, and hoped that it could be put in place long-term to relieve the shortage of maids in the country, said the president of the association, Engku Fauzi Engku Mohsen.