RANGOON — The Thai Embassy in Rangoon said it has lifted restrictions on the number of visa applications it processes daily in an effort to grant more Burmese citizens access to the neighboring country.
The new system however, has had unintended negative consequences, some of the applicants said, as waiting times have sharply increased, creating long lines outside the embassy and annoyance among those queuing up.
Early this month, the embassy stopped using a system that handed out tokens to 150 visa applicants per day, and it began accepting applications from all those who show up at the embassy between 9 am and 11:30 am.
“We don’t want to count the number of people anymore. Under the token system there would be a limited number of people who can apply every day. With the new system we can accommodate all people, but of course they might have to wait in a longer queue,” said a Thai Embassy official, who declined to be named.
“But the number of people who get the visa has increased, so it will be better for the Myanmar people,” he told The Irrawaddy. “We are trying to accommodate more people.”
In recent weeks, hundreds of people could be seen waiting for hours outside the embassy in the morning sun on a side street of Pyay Road in Dagon Township. On Thursday, many applicants said they arrived in the early morning, with some lining up as early as 4 am to ensure that their visa application would be processed.
Myo Nyunt, a civil servant who also runs a small company, said he had waited some three hours and expressed exasperation over the long waiting times.
“I do not like their new system because I feel I have to waste a lot of time lining up here. It feels like I’m losing my dignity if I have to wait so long without any chairs and tables to sit on,” he said, while standing at the rear end of a slow-moving, roughly 300-meter long queue.
Myo Nyunt added that under previous token system he was able to pay an agent a fee to more quickly obtain his visa.
Some visa agents and brokers have quickly adapted to the new system and are trying to earn money from the long waiting hours by offering to stand in line in the applicant’s stead for a fee. When the actual applicant arrives, brokers will make way for them so they can apply in person.
“We are taking waiting space for six people,” said a woman who was in a group of six brokers, adding that they charged about US$10 per applicant for the service.
“Many brokers come to sleep here at night and seize spaces outside the embassy in the morning. They earn good money… so they are happy to do this,” said Tun Aung, a taxi driver who waited for customers near the embassy.
The practice created tension and arguments between exhausted applicants on Thursday morning. One man waiting in line lashed out at a woman as he thought she had bought a place in the front of the queue through a waiting broker.
“I came here at 4 am and I could not get at the front of the line, but you did!” he said, drawing an angry response from the woman, who claimed she had also been waiting since early morning.
The Thai Embassy official said it would take some time to implement the new application system and come up with ways to address the long waiting times and related issues. “We take into account the problems… but this is just the beginning of the new system and we will assess it, and maybe we can come up with a solution,” he said.