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Immigration officials prevent conference attendees from entering country

Eager foreign investors paying top dollar to attend the New Myanmar Investment Summit 2012  have been sent home empty handed after immigration officials refused to grant them visas.

The Burmese government last month announced businessmen could apply for visas on arrival (VOA) at Yangon International Airport after 1 June 2012.

However, a bureaucratic bungle by the conference organisers meant many attendants, who had paid up to $1,495 each to attend the lucrative two-day conference, were turned away at Yangon International Airport.

To be eligible for a business visa, businesspersons need two documents — a letter from a Burmese company or organisation plus a letter of recommendation from their host country.

“The organisers’ invitation to the participants was not recognized by the immigration. The [Union of Myanmar Federation of Chambers of Commerce and Industry] told us that they initially supported the conference but they pulled back their support because the organisers were charging an exorbitant conference fee,” said one businessman whose colleague was turned away at the airport.

“This could be one of the reasons why those conference participants were turned away. They did not receive an invitation from a local company or association.”

Singaporean-based Centre for Management Technology organised the two-day conference that is being held at Rangoon’s Park Royale hotel. CMT reported that representatives from about 300 foreign firms along with local businesspersons are attending the conference.

However, attendants reported that fellow businesspersons holding letters of invitation from the conference organizer were refused a VOA by Burmese immigration staff.

One Rangoon-based businessman said his colleague was due to fly in from Canada for the conference, however because his letter of invitation was from the Singaporean company, an immigration official had refused to allow him out of the airport in Rangoon.

The businessman had to pay for his own return ticket to Canada, the source said.

“What does this mean for openness and investment in Myanmar – if investors can’t even get through the airport gates,” another business source said.

A group of Malaysian investors said one of their colleagues was forced to return to Hong Kong after being refused a VOA.

Another European investor said he was aware of the VOA option but opted to secure his visa before the long flight to Burma, saying the VOA option is an accident waiting to happen.

Immigration officials were unavailable for comment.

-Kate Kelly is a pseudonym for a journalist working in Burma


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