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Passports pledged anew

Youths stand outside Phnom Penh’s Passport Office on Mao Tse Tung Boulevard
Youths stand outside Phnom Penh’s Passport Office on Mao Tse Tung Boulevard yesterday as a security guard patrols the area. Heng Chivoan

Passports pledged anew

Migrant workers and students who have won scholarships abroad will now pay only a small tax fee for passports, according to a government sub-decree enacted this month that seeks to reprise a similar effort from 2008 widely perceived to have been ineffective.

The latest sub-decree, signed by Prime Minister Hun Sen late last month, says that for workers and students, the government will deliver standard Cambodian passports no fewer than 20 days after receiving the application, and will shoulder $100 of the usually $120 fee, leaving applicants to pay just $24 – $20 for a tax stamp and $4 for a photo.

“[Payment for] the … passports given to Cambodian workers and students … is the responsibility of the government,” reads a copy of the sub-decree in last month’s Royal Book. “All ministers and directors of the institutions concerned have to implement this sub-decree from January 1, 2014.”

Hun Sen signed an almost identical sub-decree in November 2008, telling a meeting of business leaders at the time that the cost for a “photo is $4, and the $20 for stamps is the responsibility of the applicants”.

The measure, however, was derided as largely ignored, and rights groups regularly reported workers paying officials much more than even the standard $120 fee.

Passport police official Pheng Sunheng yesterday denied that passport officials accepted more than the $24 fee, and attributed the phenomenon to third-party passport brokers.

“Regarding workers’ complaints [about paying] $270 or $300, that is the way they apply through the companies, not through our agents,” he said.

But an official at the Passport Office, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said yesterday that there was a sliding scale of fees: $130 to $135 to receive a passport in about a month and a half; $200 to $250 to wait just a week; and $270 to $300 to wait even less.

“In fact, they can do it in one day, but if they work late, you have to spend more for officers and their cronies,” he said.

Moeun Tola of the Community Legal Education Center said that he was unsurprised by the new sub-decree, given that the government had consistently failed to implement the last one for five years. The current cost, he added, had priced most workers out of legal emigration.

“All of this [pricing] is just on the paper. Even the recruitment agencies say to me, ‘If we can get passports anywhere for $25, please help us do it,’” he said. “Due to current passport problems, workers are forced to [emigrate] and work illegally.”

Nonetheless, demand for Cambodian passports has gone up, from 160,000 applicants in 2012 to 210,000 in the first nine months of 2013 alone, according to passport police.