Burma Opens New Passport Offices Around the Country

By Yen Saning 10 January 2014

RANGOON — Burmese citizens can now apply for and directly receive passports at 15 locations around the country. Previously the country had only one passport office, in Rangoon.

The government opened new passport offices last week on Friday due to an increasing number of applicants who required the document for work or medical reasons, says Maung Maung Lin, a police officer from the Myanmar Passport Issuing Board who is based in Mon State.

Last year the government began taking steps to streamline the application process, reducing the waiting period from 21 days to 10 days to receive a passport. Application forms were condensed from 14 pages to five pages, while applicants were no longer required to submit documents proving they had fully paid their taxes.

With the new offices in states and divisions, applicants pay 20,000 kyats (US$20) in Rangoon for a passport and 25,000 kyats ($25) at other locations, due to extra processing fees. Passports are valid for five years and may be issued within three to five working days in certain cases, such as medical emergencies.

“Everyone with a National Identity Card and the original household registration card can apply for a passport,” Maung Maung Lin told The Irrawaddy. “There are already more than 50 people who have applied in Mon State.”

But former prisoners, including political detainees, must present additional documents and may be subjected to longer waiting periods, a senior official at the Myanmar Passport Issuing Board told The Irrawaddy last year.

Thet Oo, a member of the Former Political Prisoners Society, said this week that former political prisoners in his society were still waiting to receive passports after applying more than two months ago.

One group that will likely benefit from the new passport services are Burmese citizens who plan to travel abroad as migrant workers, says migrants’ rights activist Tun Tun Lwin.

He is an education coordinator for the Migrant Worker Rights Network, based in Thailand with a branch in Rangoon, and plans to offer workshops to teach Burmese migrants about the pre-departure process, in a bid to stem workers from entering neighboring countries illegally.

“Once they have a passport in hand, the process will not be costly anymore,” he said. But he added that it might still be a good idea to visit Rangoon before departure, to make use of official employment agencies that can assist with legal job placement abroad.

“They can apply for and receive their passports in the states and divisions, but the migrants will need to come to Yangon [Rangoon] and contact agencies to work officially in Thailand,” he said.

Last year Burma’s Ministry of Labor announced plans to issue regular passports to Burmese migrants in Thailand. Since 2009, the Burma government has issued only temporary passports to them.

An estimated 3 million Burmese migrants reside in Thailand. Of these, about 1.7 million have been issued temporary passports, while1.3 million are undocumented, according to labor rights groups.

The Burma government has set up five offices in Thailand near the Burma border to issue regular passports, but the offices have not been opened due to ongoing political instability in Thailand.