Government officials are being urged to quickly develop clear and concrete policies regarding the length of time workers from Myanmar can stay in Thailand to prevent vulnerable migrants from being tricked by unscrupulous visa brokers and officials.
There are an estimated 3 million foreign migrant workers in Thailand, more than 80 per cent of whom originate from Myanmar.
According to a memorandum of understanding between Thailand and Myanmar, migrants from Myanmar who work in Thailand for four years must return home for three years before becoming eligible to return to Thailand.
Four years ago, in July 2009, migrants from Myanmar working in Thailand began to undergo a nationality verification process, to allow them to be issued with documents to work legally.
Thousands of Myanmar migrant workers who have been “verified” have now completed, or almost completed, four years work in Thailand.
But worker’s rights groups are warning that there is mass confusion surrounding whether or not they must leave the country, and for how long.
The State Enterprise Workers’ Relations Confederation of Thailand, the Thai Labour Solidarity Committee, the Migrant Worker Rights Network and the Human Rights and Development Foundation said on Tuesday that they are “deeply concerned” after receiving reports of migrants being told they must return to Myanmar for one day, one month or even one year, in order to be allowed to return to work legally in Thailand.
Others have been tricked into paying up to 15,000 baht for fake passports and documents, the groups said, damaging progress that had been made toward regulating the migrant workforce.
A statement from the organisations said migrant workers frequently carry out “dirty, dangerous and demanding jobs” in Thailand, but continue to face “significant exploitation and confusing piecemeal government migration policies”.
“There has been no policy clarity or official announcement,” the statement said. “These workers are being tricked, exploited and extorted by Thai and Myanmar brokers, agencies and officials through misinformation about visa extensions or the need to return home and enter Thailand through expensive unregulated systems.
“Significant numbers of migrants have paid up to 15,000 baht for new passports, often with new names, thereby forfeiting previously earned social security and labour protection rights and falling into situations of fresh debt bondage and passport confiscation.
“Other workers and employers are using fake documents, discarding passports altogether and becoming irregular, thereby defeating the success of past regularisation.”
The statement from the workers’ rights organisations said the four-year return policy “has never been realistic” for workers, employers or the Thai and Myanmar economies, and called on officials to urgently publicise clear and concrete information on the rules relating to migrant workers.
“Workers need to remain in Thailand to support their families in Myanmar; employers don’t want to lose their trained workers at times of labour shortages; and Myanmar is not ready to receive back migrants to develop its opening economy,” the statement said.
This article first appeared in the Bangkok Post on August 21, 2013.