'Permanent' Residence for Former Citizens, Foreigners to Start Next Month

By San Yamin Aung 10 November 2014

RANGOON — A “permanent” residency system of sorts will be introduced in Burma in the next month, according to a senior official with the Ministry of Immigration and Population.

The official, who asked not to be named, says that the long-term residency program will commence on Dec. 5, with successful applications to be granted an initial five-year period of residency. Professionals, technicians, investors and former Burmese citizens will be eligible for consideration.

“The applicants will be permitted to stay in the country for five years, and after that time they can extend their residency,” he said.

He said that the criteria for the applicants, the permitted period for extension and application fees will be confirmed when the bylaw governing the residency system is publicly released in the middle of this month.

Vice President Nyan Tun told a Nov. 7 meeting in Naypyidaw of the Management Committee for Permanent Residence System for Foreigners that the system would be the first of its kind in the history of Burma.

“The system will strengthen the favorable conditions of Myanmar at right time and it will enable scholars, experts, intellectuals and investors from other countries as well as former Burmese citizens to contribute to national development,” he said, according to the state-run Global New Light of Myanmar.

Dual citizenship is prohibited in Burma, according to the 1982 Citizenship Law. Tens of thousands of Burmese exiles, who fled the country for various reasons under the military regime, effectively lost their Burmese citizenship while living abroad after being granted residency or citizenship in foreign countries.

The Burmese government is now reviewing citizenship applications for exiles, but has been criticized for an administrative backlog.

In the interim, Burmese exiles wishing to return to the country must apply for visas. Social visit visas for former citizens are limited to 28 days, and business visas currently only allow residence in Burma for 10-week periods.

Bo Kyi, co-founder of the Thailand-based Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, who was exiled from the country between 1999 and 2013, said that he now holds permanent residence from Czech Republic and is required to use business visas to travel to Burma.

Bo Kyi said that the government should devise a more expeditious policy for reviewing citizenship applications for former Burmese citizens, as some applicants have had to wait more than a year to receive a formal acknowledgement of their applications.

“I applied for citizenship last month,” he said, “but I still haven’t had any response.”

“Although the government is saying former Burmese citizens in foreign countries can come back to the country, they don’t treat them fairly when they want to come back,” he said.

He added that the government should open the route for Burmese exiles stripped of their citizenship to be able to participate in politics. Currently the law states that any Burmese national who has lost his or her citizenship needs to wait ten years after regaining it before being granted the right to contest a parliamentary seat.