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Government Urged to Reconsider Draft Residency Law

Foreign businesses active in Myanmar, represented by several Chambers of Commerce and Industry, recently issued a statement in relation to the draft Law Concerning Foreigners and Foreign Workers, citing concerns over the proposed restrictions and demands to be placed on foreign workers who hold Foreigner Registration Certificates (FRCs).

In a statement released on January 31st, nine organisations representing foreign businesses in Myanmar said that the travel restrictions outlined in the bill, highlighted as one of the most egregious sections, would not be practical for foreign workers and had the potential to deter investment and impede business growth

The bill, if adopted in its current form, would require residents in possession of a Foreigner Registration Certificate (a legal necessity for foreigners who stay in Myanmar for more than 90 days) to gain approval from a township immigration official before being allowed to stray from their registered address for more than 24 hours. Those travellers would also be required to present themselves to an immigration officer upon arrival at their stated destination.

“It would, in practice, hardly be possible for foreign employees to comply with such regulation, particularly for business trips on short notice, including meetings with government authorities in Nay Pyi Taw,” the statement noted. “The resulting risk of exposing any employee to a situation of incompliance with prevailing Myanmar law would be a major impediment for foreign companies to establish a business in the Republic of the Union Myanmar, not to speak of launching large investment projects.”

The travel clause and other elements of the bill have sparked panic among foreign workers. FRC holders would be required to submit to a doctor’s examination every time they enter Myanmar and would need to attend government meetings to have employment records and other details scrutinised. Failure to comply with these demands or properly alert local authorities to changes of address, the loss of an FRC or a host of other minor infractions would carry hefty prison sentences; six months and above. The most commonly stated reasons for worrying about the bill were offenses to human dignity and freedom of movement and the risk of being imprisoned due to administrative error (a realistic concern given that the World Bank, in 2016, ranked Myanmar 170 out of 190 economies on the ease of doing business, which includes administrative competency).

The government has so far denied that the law goes too far, stating at various times that it is not much harsher than current laws in nearby countries, notably China. The statement was signed by the heads of chambers of commerce representing businesses from the European Union, the United Kingdom, Germany, Italy, France, the United States, Australia and New Zealand.