Pessimistic about future, young Burmese rush to get passports to go abroad

Ohnmar Myint is in her 20s and doesn’t think she can pursue her dreams – or make much of a living – in Myanmar anymore.

So she’s applying for a passport in hopes of moving to Japan, where she hears there are many jobs – away from the political and economic turmoil at home.

“They are all preparing to go abroad to improve their lives,” Ohnmar Myint says of all the applicants. “But they face a lot of difficulties in the application process.”

She’s one of thousands of people, many of them young, flocking to a new online passport application site that’s received so many applications that it’s hard to even access it.

Nearly 53,000 people in Yangon, the country’s biggest city, applied for a passport in just a five-day period at the end of February after the portal was opened, the Myanmar Passport Issuing Board said.

The new online system allows applicants to fill in their personal information online and then make an in-person appointment where they can submit their documents and have a photo taken.

Those who were able to access the system could only secure an in-person appointment that was months away, Yangon city resident Myat Maw said.

“I thought that it’d be easy to apply for passports since an online booking system opens. But quite contrary to my expectation, I didn’t get an appointment although I tried continuously for three days and three nights without sleep,” he said.

Also, several friends in rural areas haven’t been able to fill out an online application because of internet network problems in their areas, he said.

Prices and demand surge

Application fees have also skyrocketed.

It used to cost only 40,000 kyats (U.S.$19) to get a passport before the February 2021 coup. But now the price has risen 300,000 to 600,000 kyats (U.S.$143-$286).

But the demand to move abroad remains.

The International Organization for Migration reported in December that nearly 40,000 Myanmar people have been leaving the country each month because of political and economic instability.

Another factor is the large number of job opportunities in the region, said Ko Ko Oo, the general manager of the Silver Crane overseas employment agency. And with the COVID-19 pandemic easing up, plans to move abroad that had been put on hold are now being pursued, he said.

“There are originally plenty of people who are trying to go abroad to work and now more people are newly trying to go, too,” he said. “I must say that the numbers add up massively.”

Young people want to go abroad to earn more money because wages in Myanmar are low and inflation has caused prices to rise, Myat Maw said.

Most young people in Myanmar want to go to Japan and South Korea where they can work with the skills and education they have already acquired. Others would like to go to Singapore, Thailand or Malaysia, where they can easily find jobs.

But lately, those attempting to find work outside of Myanmar have found they can’t sit for a job interview if they don’t have the passport, according to Thae Pwint Shwe Sin, who works at an overseas job search agency.

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