Home Affairs Ministry to Overhaul Burmese Passports

By Kyaw Hsu Mon 1 April 2015

RANGOON — The Ministry of Home Affairs has announced plans to overhaul the country’s passport system, including the introduction of travel documents with biometric data, according to reports.

The government-owned New Light of Myanmar on Wednesday announced an open tender for local IT companies from Apr. 6-30 to build the new system in concert with foreign enterprises. The system will replace the machine-readable passport (MRP) system introduced in 2010, decades after the MRP’s widespread adoption by the international community.

“After Apr. 30, we will start the necessary processes, and I expect the new system will be ready this year,” Police Lt-Col Kyaw Nyunt, a ministry spokesman, told The Irrawaddy. “The electronic system would be more secure than the recent MRP system, it will become the international standard soon.”

Kyaw Nyunt added that equipment at immigration desks and passport issuing offices would also need to be upgraded, which necessitated the use of private contractors.

Current international standards for biometric travel documents include facial, fingerprint and eye recognition technology, with information stored digitally in the passport itself. Burma, Vietnam and Laos are the only three Asean countries yet to begin issuing biometric passports.

Since MRPs were introduced in Burma, waiting times for passport applications have decrased dramatically. New applicants need to wait 10 days for their passport from the Rangoon, Mandalay and Naypyidaw issuing offices, down from an average of 40 days in 2008.

However, some former dissidents have reported difficulties with passport requests, after the introduction of an official requirement that they furnish their prison release certificates with their application.

Former political prisoner Eaint Khine Oo, who recently applied for an MRP, said that the need to acquire a release certificate had led to long delays in applications lodged by her and others.

“We’re not criminals,” she said. “They don’t treat actual criminals as seriously as they treated us. I want the process to be equal and for former political prisoners to be treated as fast as other people.”

According to the Ministry of Home Affairs, more than 2 million passports have been issues since the MRP system was introduced. The ministry also extended the validity of Burmese passports from three to five years in 2012.