More Myanmar professionals in Singapore heading home to tap booming economy

More young Myanmar professionals are being drawn to the prospects of a growing economy at home, they may also be pushed out by tightening labour laws in Singapore, members of the community said. -- NP FILE PHOTO: GAVIN FOO 
More young Myanmar professionals are being drawn to the prospects of a growing economy at home, they may also be pushed out by tightening labour laws in Singapore, members of the community said. -- NP FILE PHOTO: GAVIN FOO 

Despite working as an IT analyst in multinational companies here for seven years, Myanmar national Aung Kyaw had his application for permanent residency rejected six times.

So last year, he decided to return home to focus on his trade and human resources company in Yangon, which he opened in December 2011.

"Business is booming in Myanmar, and I want to build up my own company rather than have to renew my pass every year," the 32-year-old father of two said over the phone.

More young Myanmar professionals are being drawn to the prospects of a growing economy at home. They may also be pushed out by tightening labour laws in Singapore, members of the community said.

Mr William Shwe, 65, who was president of the Myanmar Club here from 2008 to 2012, estimated that 25 people go back now for every 75 who come.

Five years ago, the ratio was only around five returnees to every 95 new entrants. He said there are more than 150,000 Myanmar citizens in Singapore, according to official estimates.

Of those who return, "some have lived in Singapore for a while and are reassigned by their companies, while some want to try their hand in Myanmar".

These younger professionals "are ambitious, and have a long climb up the corporate ladder in Singapore", said Institute of Southeast Asian Studies senior research fellow Tin Maung Maung Than.

He added that this "coincides with the way Singapore is tightening immigration", resulting in some people being unable to get work passes renewed.

Mr Naung Naung Oo, who owns a convenience store in Peninsula Plaza, said one of his friends even gave up his Singapore citizenship and moved to Yangon a year ago to open a home decorating business.

Other business owners at Peninsula Plaza, a popular hang-out with its Myanmar food outlets and numerous betel nut stalls, said that the footfall has declined in recent years.

"It has got less crowded," said Ms See Jia Hui, who runs a clothes shop.

For many young Myanmar people, however, Singapore still holds its allure as a place to gain working experience.

Dr Thein Than Win, 38, who has lived here for nearly six years and is a director of a migrant worker group, said he is considering going back, but only in a few years' time.

"I don't think I am ready yet. I still need to get more experience working outside Myanmar," he said.

joseow@sph.com.sg

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