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A Ministry of Labour report for the past year shows that more than 160,000 Burmese were successfully afforded the opportunity to work abroad thanks to memoranda of understanding (MoUs) between Burma and the governments of Thailand, Japan and South Korea.
According to the report, a total of 5,981 Burmese nationals were documented as travelling to work in South Korea between January 2016 and February 2017, while 2,789 went to Japan. The vast majority – more than 150,000 Burmese –went to Thailand with official paperwork via the MoU arrangement.
It is believed that around two million Burmese are living and working in Thailand, though a great many do so illegally. The two governments first signed an MoU in 2003 affording Burmese the opportunity to seek employment in Thailand, provided they obtain a nationality verification document and a temporary passport, which would also entitle them to apply for a two-year work visa.
The majority of Burmese migrants in Thailand work in the fishing and seafood processing sector, garment factories, rubber plantations, agri-businesses and construction projects.
The Burmese and Japanese governments are currently in negotiations to sign a fresh MoU, under a new Japanese law, which is aimed at creating technical training programmes in Japan, as well as enforcing regulations for the protection of the trainees’ rights.
One Burmese youth, interviewed at Rangoon airport last week en route to South Korea, said the official process plus flights had cost him around five million kyat (US$3,600).
“But apparently I’m going to get paid around one million kyat ($725) per month, so I should be able to make the outlay back in about five months,” he said.
Soon after Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy took office last year it signed the MoU with South Korea to allow Burmese to apply to that country.
Thailand and Malaysia remain the top destinations for Burmese migrant workers, whether with official permits or otherwise.