Myanmar migrant workers in Southeast Asia are facing tougher times due to two recent orders issued by the State Administration Council (SAC). The first order requires migrant workers to remit at least 25% of their salaries every month, sent through an official channel at a significantly lower exchange rate than the market rate.
The World Bank estimated the volume of remittances at US$1.9 billion in 2022, down from US$2 billion in 2021 and US$2.67 billion in 2020. This forced remittance order may not affect all Myanmar external migrant workers, as it is impossible to force every one of about four million migrant workers to remit a quarter of their incomes through official channels. The second order amends Union Tax Law 2023, ordering Myanmar nationals abroad to pay taxes in the foreign currency they earn starting from 1 October 2023.
Myanmar’s military junta has imposed forced taxes on all Myanmar migrants, resulting in double taxation for those who also pay income taxes in their home country. This will affect all Myanmar migrant workers, as they must show proof of tax payments or pay a lump-sum income tax when renewing their passports. The September orders aim to discipline and punish external Myanmar migrants who are seen as financial supporters of the resistance against the military regime.
The military junta also needs additional funds to support its war machine against the resistance. The junta, embroiled in international economic sanctions and a mass boycott of military-affiliated enterprises in Myanmar, has imported war materials worth at least $1 billion since the coup.
Myanmar migrant workers in Thailand, Malaysia, and Singapore have been subject to securitised regulations by the SAC, including suspensions and delays in renewing and obtaining Myanmar passports and new migration documentation requirements. This has led to brokerage services flourishing within Myanmar and in Thailand and Malaysia, resulting in additional costs for these workers.
Thailand, home to at least 2 million Myanmar workers, has only 350,000 employed through the official Memorandum of Understanding between Myanmar and Thailand. Many workers, who might have regularized their status in Thailand and obtained documentation from Myanmar immigration and labor authorities, may choose the irregular, undocumented pathway. Aspiring migrants still in Myanmar may also consider irregular migration due to the porous border between the two countries.
Despite the potential deduction from their incomes abroad, hundreds of thousands of Myanmar emigrate due to the ongoing domestic political conflict and humanitarian crisis, which have severe impacts on the country’s economic situation and labor market.
While irregular migration from Myanmar to Malaysia and Singapore is not as significant as in Thailand and Malaysia, documented workers face or will face SAC rules and regulations. Brokerage services will thrive as many Myanmar migrant workers seek passport, embassy, and consulate brokers, leading to higher fees and forced remittances. This could result in significant loss of incomes and savings for these workers.