Brokers Cash in as Burmese in Malaysia Seek Legal Status

Irrawaddy news, 10 June 2011

An official announcement by Malaysia’s government that it will grant an amnesty to illegal migrants and offer those who wish to stay a chance to legalize their status has been a boon to those in the business of helping Burmese workers navigate through the bureaucratic maze.

Although the Malaysian government has yet to finalize the details of its amnesty plan, sources in the country’s Burmese community say that brokers are already seeing an increase in demand for their services.

For around 3,000 to 5,000 ringgit (US $995 to $1,650), the brokers help Burmese workers prepare all the necessary paperwork, including documents from the Burmese embassy in Kuala Lumpur.

An official at the embassy confirmed that it was involved in the legalization process for migrant workers, but declined to provide any further details.

According to an employee of the Burmese-owned Mahaman broker company, 400 Burmese workers have already signed up with them to take advantage of this opportunity to win legal status. He said that although the initial fee for applying is just five ringgit ($1.66), the total cost of the visa could run as high as 4,000 ringgit ($1,325).

“Burmese migrants are happy about the news of an amnesty and a chance to remain here legally, but how can they afford it if it costs so much?” asked Yan Naing Tun, the editor of Thuriya, a bimonthly Burmese-language journal based in Kuala Lumpur.

Noting that some brokers are already describing the procedures for getting a work permit under the new rules in their advertisements, even though the government still hasn’t finalized its plans, Yan Naing Tun added that some agencies are also collecting their fees in advance.

This has raised fears of fraud among some Burmese workers, most of whom earn a basic wage of just 800 ringgit ($265) a month. There are several hundred thousand Burmese working in the country, both legally and illegally.

“I am hoping to legalize our status, but I have to wait and see,” said Phyu Phyu Win, a Burmese woman from Rangoon who now works as a street vendor in Malaysia. “I will try to take care of the documentation process myself, because I won’t be able to get the work permit if I have to pay a lot of money.”

But some Burmese workers feel it’s worth the expense, whatever it costs.

Honey, a Burmese computer technician based in Kuala Lumpur, said the fee is a reasonable price to pay for a chance to work legally in the country.

“I face a lot of discrimination because I’m undocumented. Some people don’t want to work with me or ride in the same car with me because if the police check and arrest me, they might face problems, too,” she said.

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  • james  On June 11, 2011 at 9:30 am

    It is artificial plan to catch the Australia deal which worth about $300 million. If Mas has such mercy, how about hundred thousand of stateless people born in peninsular Malaysian and Borneo Island. Why not entitled them to be legal person or its nationality.
    UNHCR will report conductive situation and support the deal then Australia will remove refugees from its territory.
    We will watch the next move.

  • Moe Aung  On July 11, 2011 at 9:01 am

    Time Burmese embassies around the world actually helped their fellow countrymen and women. Their purpose seems to have been no more than represent their state and entertain VIPs.

    Given that our own state is so repressive over its own people, foreign embassies and their staff in Yangon also treat visa applicants like beggars, the same for Burmese passports holders at airports all over the world, thanks to our military rulers.

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