Government will open centers to register illegal migrant workers



In response to a panic among illegal foreign migrant workers over new labor rules and regulations that led many to fear they would be arrested, the government said last week it will open 99 centers around the country to register roughly 1.5 million of those workers and legalize their presence in the country.

The move also eases the concerns of the many businesses that depend upon migrant laborers and who feared being caught in a manpower shortage as thousands of migrants returned to their homelands in the mistaken belief they might be taken into custody or deported.  The new rules prescribe tough and expensive penalties for those working illegally in the Kingdom and for those who employ them.

Thailand is a temporary home for an estimated 2 million-plus migrant laborers from neighboring countries, although an exact figure for them is difficult to come by. The migrant workers form an important component of the Thai economy because they are willing to work in many jobs that Thais are no longer interested in doing in sufficient numbers now that the country has become more developed. These include construction, fishing and other industries.

As a middle-income nation surrounded by less developed neighbors, Thailand has become a magnet for workers from those countries seeking employment, higher wages and a chance at a better life. Many have come to Thailand illegally, however, leaving them vulnerable to exploitation because of their illegal status.

Two years ago, the government of Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha began working to solve the long-standing problem by registering foreign workers for a limited time period. More than 1 million foreign workers were regularized, receiving documents that allowed them to work in the Kingdom legally and access social services and legal help if necessary.

But the flow of migrant workers is fluid, and so the government announced a new registration period for July 24 to Aug 7, a 15-day window.

One stumbling block for migrants to successfully register is a lack of documents that can confirm their nationality and identity. To obtain those, the workers would often have to return to their own countries, which was time consuming and expensive for them, and so many chose to remain and work in the shadows illegally.

During this registration period, however, Thailand’s neighbors Myanmar and Cambodia, where the vast majority of the migrants originate from, have agreed to send officials to several of the centers to help migrants obtain certificates of identity without having to return home. Thailand is discussing a similar arrangement with Laos.