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Pessimistic about the future, young Burmese rush to obtain passports to go abroad

Ohnmar Myint is 20 years old and doesn’t think he can follow his dreams, or earn a living, in Myanmar.

So he’s applying for a passport in hopes of moving to Japan, where he hears there are plenty of jobs, far from the political and economic turmoil of his home.

“Everyone is 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 is one of thousands of people, many of them young, flocking to a new online passport application site that has received so many applications that it is difficult to even access it.

Nearly 53,000 people in Yangon, the country’s largest city, applied for a passport in just five days in late February after the portal opened, the Myanmar Passport Issuance Board said.

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

A Myanmar passport. (Photo/citizen journalist)

Those who were able to access the system were only able to secure an in-person appointment within a few months, said Myat Maw, a Yangon city resident.

“I thought it would be easy to apply for passports since an online reservation system opens. But quite contrary to my expectations, I did not get an appointment despite trying continuously for three days and three nights without sleep,” she said.

In addition, several friends in rural areas have been unable to complete an online application due to problems with the internet network in their areas, he said.

Prices and demand rise

Application fees have also skyrocketed.

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

But the demand to move abroad remains.

The International Organization for Migration reported in December that nearly 40,000 Myanmar people leave the country every month due to political and economic instability.

Another factor is the wealth of job opportunities in the region, said Ko Ko Oo, general manager of overseas employment agency Silver Crane. And with the COVID-19 pandemic waning, plans to move abroad that had been put on hold are now taking place, she said.

“Originally, there are a lot of people who are trying to go abroad to work and now more people are trying to go abroad as well,” he said. “I must say, the numbers add up massively.”

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

Most of Myanmar’s youth 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 work.

But lately, those trying to find work outside of Myanmar have found that they cannot appear for a job interview without a passport, according to Thae Pwint Shwe Sin, who works at an overseas job search agency.

Translated by Myo Min Aung. Edited by Matt Reed and Malcolm Foster.

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