A passenger sits in socially distanced seats in near-empty Suvarnabhumi airport in Bangkok as domestic travel starts to pick up following restrictions to halt the spread of the coronavirus. (Photo: AFP)
Thailand is planning to allow certain groups of migrant workers from neighboring countries to return in the coming weeks, the government has announced.
Migrants who work in construction and food production will be among the first to be allowed back into Thailand to resume work in these key industries, according to the Centre for Covid-19 Situation Administration (CCSA), which is tasked with managing the pandemic in the country.
In addition, foreigners who arrive to help organize trade exhibitions or work as part of film production crews will also be granted permission to enter. However, all foreign workers entering or re-entering the country must have guarantees from their local employers.
Migrant workers must also stay in quarantine for at least 14 days upon arrival and have a tracking application installed on their phones so their movements can be monitored, said Taweesilp Visanuyothin, a government spokesman.
A senior police officer stressed that local authorities will keep an eye on people-smuggling operations to ensure that no migrant workers are spirited into Thailand for fear that they might spread Covid-19.
Even with such caveats, however, the reopening of Thailand’s borders should come as a welcome development to many low-income people in neighboring countries such as Laos, Myanmar and Cambodia who depend on work in Thailand, an economic powerhouse in the region.
Prior to the Covid-19 pandemic, an estimated four million migrant workers were employed, both legally and illegally, in Thailand, according to the United Nations’ International Organization for Migration.
Although many migrants are vulnerable to abuse and exploitation by their employers, millions of impoverished Burmese, Laotians and Cambodians see employment in Thailand as their only real option of earning a living with job opportunities unavailable to them back home.
Migrant workers have been among those hardest hit financially by the pandemic in Thailand. Most have been out of a job as a result of the severe economic slump that followed a months-long lockdown.
As non-citizens, they have also been ineligible for any government handouts afforded to newly jobless employees.
It remains to be seen how many employment opportunities will be available for migrant workers in Thailand as millions of locals, too, have been made jobless by the pandemic, which has severely impacted the country’s key tourism and services sectors.
The Bank of Thailand estimates that the country’s GDP could shrink by a staggering 9 percent this year.
The vast majority of Thais remain opposed to the idea of allowing foreigners back into the country, according to a new opinion poll by Suan Dusit Rajabhat University.
In an online survey conducted from July 14-18, as many as 94.51 percent of nearly 1,500 Thai respondents from across the country said they wanted to see foreigners barred from entering the country for the time being in order to prevent a second wave of Covid-19.
Thailand has had great success in containing the spread of the disease with only 3,250 recorded cases and 58 deaths. Yet fears of a renewed outbreak remain widespread around the country.