Myanmar has taken another step towards opening up to the world by allowing a Hong Kong agency to recruit its people to work as domestic helpers in the city.
The Golden Mind Employment Agency became the world's first agency to be given permission to recruit domestic workers in the former pariah state.
The agency hopes the move will help overcome a shortage of such workers from the Philippines, while Myanmar hopes it will reduce its unemployment and illegal emigration woes.
"In the past, Myanmar might have been reluctant to let its citizens [work] as domestic assistants abroad due to some problems and difficulties they might face," a spokesman for Myanmar's consulate in Hong Kong said. But the Southeast Asian country was now "more open to the outside world".
The spokesman also said Hong Kong was seen as "reliable" because it had rules and regulations in place that would protect domestic helpers' rights.
"[The move] will also help reduce the unemployment rate in Myanmar, as well as illegal migration of workers to neighbouring countries," he said.
Anita Lim Shuk-ling, the agency's general manager, said it had worked on the plan with a well-connected business partner in Myanmar for three years.
"We were given a quota to bring in 200 Myanmese in the first batch. And 60 of them will arrive at around the end of next month," she said. The agency plans to import 1,000 Myanmese helpers next year.
Lim said thousands were already working as helpers in Singapore. But they arrived on visitor visas and switched to working visas rather than going through a formal arrangement with the government in Naypyidaw.
Immigration Department data last month showed 43 Myanmese working as helpers in Hong Kong. Lim said they were brought in on an individual basis by Myanmese citizens who held Hong Kong residency.
She said her agency's Myanmese helpers went through two months of training, including cooking and Putonghua lessons, at a training centre in Yangon. One-third were university graduates, but they had not received Cantonese lessons as the agency was looking for tutors, she added.
Lim, who owns a recruitment agency in the Philippines, said it was increasingly difficult to hire Filipino helpers as they were being offered factory jobs paying about HK$5,400 a month in Taiwan, South Korea and Japan. Hong Kong's monthly minimum wage for helpers is just HK$4,010.
The Philippines and Indonesia have sought to curb their citizens from moving abroad to take on domestic work in recent years, and Hong Kong has been widening the net to other countries.