Guide to Visas and Employment Permits for Foreign Workers in Myanmar

As Myanmar continues to open up after years of isolation, many foreign investors and multinational companies are entering the country for the first time. For those establishing businesses from the ground up, skilled and experienced foreign workers are often brought in to oversee the establishment of new operations.

The ability to employ skilled foreign workers is particularly important in Myanmar given the poor state of training and work-preparedness in the country.

But the laws concerning the employment of foreign workers in Myanmar are still developing, as is the case with many other regulations governing the country’s rapidly changing business environment. Myanmar lacks a comprehensive work permit system for foreign workers, though the National League for Democracy-led government is drafting legislation to create a more cohesive framework.

Only nationals from Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam can arrive in Myanmar visa-free, with a maximum stay of 14 days

That being said, there are currently multiple paths for foreigners to acquire legal working status in Myanmar, which will be explored below.

Obtaining a Business Visa

At present, most foreign workers in Myanmar enter and live in the country with a business visa.

Initially, most foreign workers acquire a single entry business visa valid for a 70 day stay. A multiple entry business visa can be acquired if the applicant has already had at least two single entry business visas and has not violated any immigration laws.

The criteria for awarding a multiple entry business visa are not set in stone, but rather determined on a case-by-case basis. In some cases, authorities might only require one previous single entry visa, while in other cases they may require three.

Multiple entry business visas allow for unlimited entries during a lifespan of three months, six months, or one year, though there is a maximum stay of 70 days per entry.

Citizens from 50 different countries are eligible to apply online for a 70 day single entry business e-visa. E-visas require entry into the country through Yangon, Mandalay, or Nay Pyi Taw airports.

Nationals from 48 countries are also able to acquire a business visa on arrival, while nationals of all countries can apply for one at a Myanmar embassy or consulate.

Only nationals from Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam can arrive in Myanmar visa-free, with a maximum stay of 14 days. While visa costs vary by country of origin, multiple entry visas are considerably more expensive than single entry ones.

The following documentation is required when applying for a business visa:

  • A recommendation letter from the employer, including details about the type of business, purpose of visit, applicant’s name, passport details, position in company, and intended entry and exit dates
  • Invitation letter from a Myanmar registered company on its official letterhead
  • A guarantor from the Myanmar registered company who is the one officially inviting the applicant. The guarantor must be the managing director or owner of the company, and must give a copy of the Myanmar company registration certificate. The guarantor may be contacted by the immigration authorities during the application process
  • Visa application form
  • Two recent color photographs with white background size 35mm x 45mm
  • Passport valid for at least six months and copy of the passport details page

Obtaining a Stay Permit and Multiple Journey Special Re-entry Visa

Although business visas are limited to 70-day stays regardless of whether they are single or multiple entry classification, a Stay Permit or Multiple Journey Special Re-entry Visa can be acquired to extend the total stay period. The Stay Permit is not a separate visa, but a special permit that removes the 70-day limit on visas, allowing a foreign worker to remain in Myanmar for lengths of either three months, six months, or one year.

However, the Stay Permit is only valid for one entry, even if the holder has a valid multiple entry visa. In order to keep the Stay Permit valid when leaving Myanmar, a Multiple Journey Special Re-entry Visa must be obtained.

Companies investing in Myanmar under the Foreign Investment Law or the Myanmar Special Economic Zone Law can apply for work permits for foreigners in managerial or supervisory roles or for those holding technical skills

The Multiple Journey Special Re-entry Visa is also valid for three months, six months, or one year. The criteria for acquiring this visa are stricter than for business visas and the Stay Permit.

To be eligible for the Multiple Journey Special Re-entry Visa, the applicant must have traveled to Myanmar on a business visa a minimum of three separate times and must present evidence that they are employed as a consultant, director, or manager.

The Stay Permit and Multiple Journey Special Re-entry Visa are regulated by the Ministry of Immigration and Population.

The following documents are required to apply for a Stay Permit and Multiple Journey Special Re-entry Visa:

  • A recommendation letter from the employer, including details about the type of business, purpose of visit, applicant’s name, passport details, position in company, and intended entry and exit dates
  • Invitation letter from a Myanmar registered company on its official letterhead
  • Applicant’s CV
  • Authorization letter notarized and legalized by the relevant Myanmar Embassy or Consulate
  • Company documents, including certificate of registration, permit, company affidavit
  • Visa application form
  • Two recent color photographs with white background size 35mm x 45mm
  • Passport valid for at least six months and copy of the passport details page

Obtaining a Work Permit

The Myanmar Foreign Investment Law of 2012 introduced a work permit system for foreigners investing in Myanmar.

Companies investing in Myanmar under the Foreign Investment Law or set up under the Myanmar Special Economic Zone Law (MSEZL) can apply for work permits for foreigners in managerial or supervisory roles or for those holding technical skills. To do so, a company must have an Investment Permit and receive an endorsement to employ foreign workers from the Myanmar Investment Commission (MIC). Alternatively, if a company is operating under the MSEZL, they can apply at the zone’s One Stop Service Center (OSSC).

In order to acquire a work permit, the applicant must be in good health, have a letter of recommendation from their employer, and hold a degree that is regionally or internationally recognized in relation to their employment as proof of expertise.

Even with a work permit, foreign workers will still need to acquire a Stay Permit and Multiple Journey Special Re-entry Visa separately in order to stay in Myanmar beyond 70 days and to exit and re-enter the country on the same visa.

Legislative Changes

The requirements for hiring foreign workers in Myanmar, as is the case regarding other facets of foreign investment, are gradually liberalizing.

Under the Myanmar Foreign Investment Law of 2012, a certain proportion of a company’s employees had to be Myanmar citizens – 25% within the first two years of a company’s set up, 50% for years three and four, and 75% within the fifth and sixth years. This is no longer the case under the new Myanmar Investment Law.

There is a potential for restrictions being imposed on internal travel for resident foreigners if a draft legislation is passed by Myanmar’s parliament

However, companies still must give preference to local candidates and cannot hire foreigners for unskilled labor. They must also have systems in place to transfer knowledge and skills to local employees.

Investors recruiting foreign talent to work in Myanmar are advised to monitor government websites and news services for any legislative developments.

Draft laws aiming to create a more comprehensive legal environment for employing foreign workers have already been drawn up and are currently undergoing revisions. For instance, there is a potential for restrictions being imposed on internal travel for resident foreigners if a draft legislation called Law Concerning Foreigners is passed by Myanmar’s parliament in its current form.

Currently under discussion in parliament, the draft stipulates that expatriates holding a Foreigner Registration Certificate (FRC), a stay permit for foreigners intending to reside in Myanmar for more than 90 consecutive days, should obtain prior approval from township immigration registrars before proceeding on any internal travel outside of their registered addresses for more than 24 hours.

Under this proposal, failure to secure the necessary permission could lead to imprisonment of up to one year. Even those granted permission to proceed will be required to check in with the immigration authorities at their destination on their arrival.

The upcoming legislation has drawn the attention of the country’s expatriate community. The chambers of commerce representing several countries have called upon the government to reconsider the aforementioned provision of the law. The expatriate community has stated that the draft legislation will deter investment as its impractical nature exposes foreigners to significant risks associated with non-compliance.

As the country expects to attract more foreign investment with the new Investment Law, which comes into effect on April 1st, new regulations clarifying the employment of foreign workers can be expected in 2017.

About the Author

Dezan Shira & Associates is a specialist foreign direct investment practice that provides advisory services to multinationals investing in emerging Asia. This first appeared in ASEAN Briefing, and was re-edited for clarity and conciseness. For further details or to contact the firm, please visit www.dezshira.com.

Copyright© 2017 Dezan Shira & Associates. All rights reserved.

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