Once the richest country in Southeast Asia, Myanmar has suffered from decades of isolation and stagnation but as political and economic reforms take hold, the Myanmar recruitment market is set to explode. However, many of Myanmar’s exiles, especially those who are professionals or well educated who left due to political reasons, remain wary about returning – meaning foreign expatriates will likely be needed to fill in the void for the time being.
The Myanmar Diaspora and Myanmar Returnees
Myanmar’s Diaspora is estimated to number approximately 100,000 in the US and easily 1.5 to 2 million in neighboring Thailand with another 500,000 in Malaysia. Significant concentrations of Myanmar citizens can also be found in Singapore while so-called Anglo-Burmese communities exist in the UK and in other commonwealth countries. However, many of Myanmar’s citizens who live abroad are either refugees from the country’s ethnic minorities or they have gone abroad seeking work.
In the past, Myanmar’s Diaspora was largely and purposely marginalized by the country’s government due to their opposition to the country’s military regime. That has started to change with the government of President Thein Sein trying to lure Myanmar exiles back as the country opens up its economy. Nevertheless, many Myanmar exiles have settled abroad more or less permanently while those involved in the opposition may, somewhat ironically, be less inclined to return if they find themselves irrelevant in the new Myanmar as international funding for exile and opposition organizations dry up. Moreover, many professional and educated Myanmar exiles who left for political reasons remain suspicious of the government and have no plans to return any time soon until they see concrete changes.
The Myanmar Recruitment Market
As the country’s economy opens up, the Myanmar recruitment market will see an explosion in demand for skilled professionals and managers to staff MNCs as well as international organizations and NGOs. This demand will likely leave many local businesses and government agencies devoid of the professional talent they need. Hence, MNCs intending to enter the Myanmar market will need to recruit Myanmar exiles, returnees or foreign expatriate talent.
Moreover and once Myanmar completes the $58-billion Dawei deep seaport, the country is expected to become an important hub for trade connecting Southeast Asia and the South China Sea. Myanmar also has rich natural resources (including offshore oil and natural gas), fertile farm land, a wealth of potential tourist attractions and low cost labor with garment factories from neighboring Thailand already planning to relocate to the Yangon area.
Working in Myanmar
As Myanmar institutes reforms and sanctions imposed on the country ease, foreign expatriates working in Myanmar can expect changes when it comes to visas and work permits. Right now, a Myanmar business visa will allow for a stay of 10 weeks and is extendable for up to 12 months on case-by-case basis. However, foreign expatriates intending to work in Myanmar should contact the nearest Myanmar embassy for the most up-to-date information on current visa and work permit formalities.
On the tax front, non-resident foreign expatriates working in Myanmar are subject to a flat tax rate of 35% on any salary derived from Myanmar employment but if the salary is paid in any foreign currency, it will be taxed at a flat rate of 15%. Taxes for foreign expatriate salaries can also vary depending upon the status of the employer in the country. Otherwise, resident foreigners and those with Myanmar citizenship have their salaries taxed at progressive rates between 3% to 30% while income from other sources is taxed between 5% to 40%.
Nevertheless, foreign expatriates intending to work in Myanmar should expect to be quoted a net salary with taxes handled by the employer. Moreover and as Myanmar opens up its economy, it should be assumed that its tax laws are in flux. In fact and at the end of 2011, Myanmar scrapped taxes on Myanmar overseas workers. Hence and for further information about Myanmar tax rates or Myanmar’s taxes in general, visit taxrates.cc or the website for the Myanmar Internal Revenue Department
Meanwhile, foreign expatriates should be aware that Myanmar’s reputation for health care is poor with wealthier citizens opting for medical treatment in Thailand as well as Singapore and even India. Hence, foreigners and returnees alike working in Myanmar will need to have international health insurance that also covers medical evacuation in the event of a serious illness or accident.
Finally and foreign expatriates especially who are considering employment in Myanmar should be aware that life in the country may take an adjustment. For example: There are no ATM machines in Myanmar while Internet access is strictly censored and controlled by the government. Nevertheless and as Myanmar opens up to the rest of the world, these inconveniences will gradual ease.