New Rules to Help Burmese Migrants Apply for Passports

By Nyein Nyein 19 August 2014

CHIANG MAI, Thailand — The Burmese Embassy in Thailand is revising procedures for Burmese migrants to receive regular passports, the Burmese government says.

The revision comes after many Burmese migrants were not able to apply for passports because they did not have a valid Burmese ID.

After seizing power in a May coup, the Thai junta launched a crackdown on illegal migrant workers, putting pressure on people to apply for proper documentation.

The Burmese Ministry of Labor announced on Monday that a 10-member committee of embassy officials and labor rights specialists would soon begin a “national verification process” to check the IDs of Burmese migrants in Thailand. Any migrant with a valid ID and household registration can apply for a regular passport, labor attaché Thein Naing told The Irrawaddy.

But many migrants did not bring their IDs or household registration with them when they left Burma. And in the aftermath of the coup, they have been reluctant to return home to retrieve this paperwork, fearing they might be stopped from coming back to Thailand.

Under the revised procedures for passport applications, migrants without IDs will need to return to Burma to acquire one. With a temporary stay permit issued from the Thai junta, they can make the trip and come back to Thailand without any trouble from law enforcement. The temporary stay permits were initially valid for only two months but were extended recently to March 2015 due to a backlog of applicants at one-stop service centers along the border.

According to the ministry’s statement, passports can be picked up at the embassy in Bangkok or at offices in three border towns: Tachileik, Myawaddy and Kawthaung.

Kyaw Thaung, a member of the national verification committee, as well as a director of the Myanmar Association Thailand, said he believed it would be ineffective to check for Burmese ID cards in Thailand because so many migrants lacked official documents. “I recommend continuing to implement the current temporary passport process,” he said.

Thein Naing, the labor attaché, urged Burmese migrants to apply whenever possible for an MoU passport, available to those who have already agreed to a contract with an employer in Thailand. “It is the most effective way to solve labor dispute problems,” he said.

According to official figures last year, there were 1.7 million Burmese migrants legally registered in Thailand, while migrant rights activists estimated another 1.3 million migrants were unregistered. The Thai government says 190,000 Burmese workers have now registered for temporary stay permits, while another 150,000 are expected to register soon.