Myanmar students in the United States have launched a campaign urging Myanmar’s government to respond to the recent visa fee hike imposed on them by the US embassy in Yangon, calling the hike absurd and unfair.
On April 5, the embassy announced that the fee for a non-immigrant student visa would rise from US$160 to $600, starting from April 9. The move was made in compliance with Executive Order 13780, a decree that nominally aims to prevent terrorists from entering the United States but has been criticized for being a “Muslim ban.”
One section of Executive Order 13780 requires visa agreements between the United States and other countries to be “truly reciprocal” in terms of fees and validity periods. Since the cost of a visa for an American student in Myanmar is around $600, the cost for a Myanmar student in the United States must be the same.
According to the group Myanmar Students’ Union – USA, this attempt at reciprocity is unfair because it would take the average Myanmar citizen seven months to earn $600, while it would take the average American less than a week, according to 2015 World Bank data.
“The visa price hike will rid many Myanmar students of their opportunity to study in the United States. It will deter many of Myanmar’s potential businessmen, artisans, politicians, engineers, and leaders in all fields a chance to equip themselves with a world class education to reach their highest potentials. Most importantly, it will dissuade Myanmar’s high-achieving middle-class citizens without the financial means an equal chance at education,” reads an open letter released yesterday by the student group.
However, the letter continues: “We are all outraged by this absurdity, but it will not be enough.”
Rather than demanding a change to the US policy, the group calls on Myanmar’s government to lower the price of visas for American students down to $160 so that the US embassy can legally bring visas for Myanmar students back down to their original price.
Citing sections of the Myanmar constitution that obligate the government to support citizens’ intellectual and educational pursuits, the letter asserts: “As citizens of a democratic country, we have the power to change. The parliamentarians are there to represent our interests, and if we call out for change, we will have change.”
Myanmar Students’ Union – USA is inviting Myanmar students in the United States to sign this petition or to send original letters to firstname.lastname@example.org before April 13. The group plans to forward physical copies of the letters to the officers of the Myanmar state counsellor and president, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Myanmar embassy in the United States, and the US embassy in Myanmar.