Migrant centers proposed, study calls for overhaul of policies

Thailand’s Ministry of Labor expects to receive Cabinet approval to establish three centers along the Kingdom’s borders by August 1 to screen and facilitate foreign migrants seeking work legally in Thailand, as a study conducted by the National Security Council urged an overhaul of migration policies for low-skilled labor.

Thailand has over 2 million foreign migrants – documented and undocumented – working in the country. The government of Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha has been implementing a comprehensive set of measures to register all foreign migrant workers as part of reforms aimed at preventing human trafficking and labor abuse.

The vast majority of foreign migrants are citizens of neighboring countries Cambodia, the Lao People’s Democratic Republic and Myanmar. One center will be set up at the border with each of these source countries. The centers would assist migrants with obtaining documents and meeting requirements that would allow them to work legally in Thailand, and send back those who do not qualify. Officials at the centers will also brief the migrants on Thai labor laws and cultural issues.

The three centers will located in Tak province along the border with Myanmar, Sa Kaew province along the border with Cambodia, and Nong Khai province along the border with Lao PDR.

Department of Employment Chief Arrak Phrammani said that 786,743 workers had already registered at existing service centers further inland and Department offices in other provinces. Thousands, however, have still failed to register and are at risk of not meeting a deadline at the end of July for migrants already in country to become documented.

As part of measures to discourage employers from hiring undocumented workers, the government has passed laws allowing for a maximum fine for employers of $2,850 for each illegal worker. The workers face jail terms of up to five years and fines of up to $2,850.

Despite the broad range of measures already in place, a study released last week by the National Security Council (NSC) in collaboration with the Thailand Development Research Institute (TDRI) and Chulalongkorn University’s Asian Research Center for Migration (ARCM) urged the government to develop better mechanisms to handle low-skilled migrant workers.

The report notes that mechanisms have been developed to facilitate the cross-border movements of high-skilled labor as part of the 10-nation Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Economic Community, or AEC, a free trade and investment zone with a population of over 625 million people. But the AEC has not addressed the movement or migration of low-skilled laborers.

The study called for the government to go further in simplifying the registration process and to make it cheaper, increase punishments for employers and corrupt officials who hire or facilitate illegal migrants, make it easier for documented migrants to change employers, and to ensure that migrants receive health care in order to curb the spread of illnesses and disease among the Thai population.