More than two million works permits are expected to be issued after latest relaxation of border controls for foreign workers
Migrant workers register for testing at a Covid-19 mobile testing clinic in Pathum Thani, north of Bangkok, on Jan. 10, 2021. (Photo: AFP)
Thailand will admit about 160,000 migrant workers from Cambodia, Laos and Myanmar in a bid to resolve labor shortages while looking to issue more than 2.2 million work visas to those who remained in-country during the pandemic.
Department of Employment director-general Pairoj Chotikasathien said the Labor Ministry would move on resolving labor shortages after allaying government concerns that illegal immigrants would further spread Covid-19.
He said a memorandum of understanding signed by the countries had resulted in employers seeking 38,933 workers from Cambodia, 117,029 from Myanmar and 11,999 from Laos.
Thailand is likely to authorize work permits for 2,132,469 Myanmar, Lao and Cambodian workers so that they can remain in the country, he added.
The latest relaxation of border controls for foreign workers was in addition to about 1,700 Cambodian workers who have crossed the border into Thailand at Poipet in three batches since Feb. 5, for legal work.
Foreign workers in Thailand began scrambling home early last year when the Covid-19 pandemic struck Southeast Asia with full force, resulting in border closures, lockdowns and severe travel restrictions that crushed local economies and bankrupted many businesses.
“This is something these countries really need to get right. All these migrant workers are poor, very poor, and poverty levels have reversed and gone backward because of the pandemic”
Despite travel restrictions, human trafficking of illegal workers rose dramatically as people — mostly from impoverished rural areas — sought alternative work.
Thousands of foreign nationals from Myanmar, Cambodia and Laos were arrested in Thailand for illegal entry last year, causing major concern among health officials attempting to combat the pandemic.
But at the same time, thousands more were forced out of the country after Thai Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha ordered the closure of worker campsites across Bangkok as a measure to curb Covid-19 transmissions. Thousands more were left stranded after their visas expired.
Pairoj urged employers who intended to hire illegal workers to think first of health safety and the risks from Covid-19, and asked them not to hire such workers and instead rely on the department which would import workers legally under the MoU.
“This is something these countries really need to get right,” one Phnom Penh analyst, who declined to be named, said. “All these migrant workers are poor, very poor, and poverty levels have reversed and gone backward because of the pandemic.”
Thailand’s borders are notoriously porous and information out of Myanmar and Laos is equally sketchy. However, Cambodia recently announced it had expelled 3,594 foreigners from 43 countries in 2021. A vast majority of them were Thai.
Of the 2,899 Thais expelled, some 2,636 were working illegally in Cambodia. More than 20,000 illegal aliens had been expelled from the country since 2014.
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