Monday, August 11, 2008

MHA statement on eight facing immigration issues

Ansley Ng

ansley@mediacorp.com.sg

HIS TUITION fees at the National University of Singapore were subsidised
by the Government and last month Mr Maung Soe Thiha completed his
mechancial engineering course here.

He is supposed to honour a three-year bond to work here after graduation
and is relying on a social visit pass to stay here to look for a job.

But instead of starting his career, Mr Maung is now in Cambodia because
his social visit pass was not extended.

The 23-year-old is part of a group of eight Myanmar nationals working and
living in Singapore who have to sort out unexpected immigration issues.

They claim they share one other thing in common: They were all part of a
gathering along Orchard Road last November during the Asean Summit to
protest against Myanmar's military junta.

The group comprises four Permanent Residents, two who were S-Pass holders,
one on a work permit and Mr Maung.

Three of them have left Singapore but have not returned to Myanmar,
fearing for their safety. The remaining five, among them an accountant and
two engineers, held a press conference last night in a cramped cafe at
Peninsular Plaza.

Acting as a spokesman for the group, Mr Myo Myint Maung, a business
management student at the Singapore Management University, said they had
expected the applications to be smooth, "since they all had valid reasons
to stay".

For example, engineer Wunna Saw Thein had applied for a re-entry visa on
Aug 2 so he could keep his PR status if he were to make an overseas trip.

He noted that the processing time stated on the Immigration and
Checkpoints Authority website was 30 minutes and is "puzzled" why his
application is still pending.

When contacted, the Home Affairs Ministry said: "Any foreign national who
wishes to apply for a permission to stay or work in Singapore or to appeal
for renewal of the same can do so freely to the Immigration and
Checkpoints Authority and his case will be assessed on its individual
merits.

"The right of a foreign national to work or stay in Singapore is not a
matter of entitlement by political demand.

"Foreigners who work or live here are expected to at least respect the law
and local sensitivities in Singapore, no less than Singaporeans who are
abroad, are obliged to observe the laws and respect the customs and
sensitivities of the countries they happen to be in."

According to Mr Myo, some of the eight, including Mr Maung, helped
organise the November protest as well as relief projects following Cyclone
Nargis.

About 40 people had participated in the protest and were summoned to the
police station over a few months to help with investigations.

However, they were told later that no charges would be pressed and were
let off with a warning, said Mr Myo.

Mr Maung flew to Phnom Penh when his social visit pass expired, a day
after he wasoffered a job by an engineering firm, which applied to
theManpower Ministry on the same day for an employment pass for him.

"It can be approved within a day, but now it's still pending," said Mr
Myo.

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