Labor agencies in Myanmar have suspended sending workers to Malaysia to protest against a tenfold increase in visa fees, officials said Monday.
Malaysia has raised visa application costs from $6 to $57, prompting employment agencies to boycott the country, where an estimated one million Myanmar migrant workers – mostly illegal – live.
According to the new system starting Monday, labor agencies are required to pay $26 in system charges and a $25 service charge in addition to the $6 visa fee for each Myanmar worker.
Win Tun, Myanmar Overseas Employment Agencies Federation (MOEAF) secretary, told Anadolu Agency, “we have asked Malaysian authorities to reduce the visa application cost as this amount is a burden for Myanmar workers.”
He said that there would be a suspension in sending Myanmar workers to Malaysia “until the new system is cancelled or the visa fees is reduced.”
Of the 235 member agencies of MOEAF, more than 180 have issued a hold on sending workers in protest against the new application system, he added.
Although Malaysia had long been a favored destination for Myanmar workers, its popularity has declined since 2013 amid a rise in religious tension in the wake of violence – mainly targeting Rohingya Muslims – in Myanmar’s western Rakhine state.
More than one million Rohingya Muslims – who Myanmar’s government refers to as “Bengali” to imply they are interlopers from Bangladesh – live in Rakhine, which has witnessed a series of violent outbreaks between ethnic Rakhine Buddhists and minority Muslims since mid-2012.
Myanmar authorities had suspended sending workers to Malaysia for months in 2013 after some of its nationals in the Muslim majority archipelago were attacked and murdered.
Some 50,000 workers had returned to Myanmar in 2014 after more than 24 of their countrymen were killed in Malaysia during a 15-month period leading up to Sept. 2014, in what observers believe could have been linked to communal violence in Rakhine, according to media reports.
According to Myanmar’s embassy in Kuala Lumpur, there are more than 400,000 Myanmar migrant workers in Malaysia, about 100,000 of who are illegal workers.
According to some estimates, however, the number of undocumented Myanmar workers in the country stands at around 500,000.
Among those illegally employed, many find themselves working long hours in dangerous conditions with few avenues for gaining better conditions or payment.