Migrants to Start Receiving Regular Passports

By Nyein Nyein 16 October 2013

Burma’s Ministry of Labor has announced plans to start issuing regular passports to Burmese migrants in Thailand from next month.

The passports, which are the same as those issued by the Ministry of Home Affairs in Rangoon, will replace temporary passports that are valid only in Thailand.

The goal of the new policy is to treat migrant workers like other Burmese citizens, Kyaw Kyaw Lin, the labor attaché at the Burmese embassy in Bangkok, told The Irrawaddy.

He said the ministry decided to issue the standard red passport to all migrant workers starting from Oct. 21. He added, however, that the ministry won’t be ready to fully implement its plans until its offices in border towns reopen next month.

The passports will also be available to Burmese migrants employed in Thailand’s fishing industry, who are among the most exploited group of workers in the country.

“We are now trying to issue passport to workers in the fishing industry along the Thailand coast,” said Kyaw Kyaw Lin.

Burma’s government has been issuing temporary passports to migrants in Thailand since 2009, when the two countries began a National Verification process that aimed to allow Burmese migrants to legally reside in Thailand on two-year visas.

So far, around 1.7 million Burmese migrants have been issued with temporary passports, while another 1.3 million remain undocumented, according to labor rights groups.

Despite efforts to improve the legal status of Burmese workers in Thailand, rights groups say many remain vulnerable to exploitation by brokers who offer to help them complete the registration process. Human trafficking, facilitated by the forging of legal documents, remains rampant, they say.

Asked if issuing standard passports to migrant workers would help to resolve some of these problems, Kyaw Kyaw Lin declined to comment.

For its part, the Thai government will continue to issue two-year visas and one-year work permits, regardless of the type of passport held by migrants.

It remains unclear if migrants will be required to replace their temporary passports with standard passports, although anybody seeking to extend their current documents will be expected to apply for a regular passport, said Kyaw Kyaw Lin.

“A timeframe will be set for migrant workers to change their passports, but I cannot say yet exactly when,” he said.

One major advantage of the new passports is that they will be valid for travel anywhere within the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations.

Speaking on condition of anonymity, a Burmese labor agent in the northern Thai city of Chiang Mai said many migrants are interested in the new passport scheme, as it would mean more freedom to go to countries other than Thailand.