Labour rights groups, including the Migrant Worker Rights Network, Thai Labour Solidarity Committee, Human Rights and Development Foundation and State Enterprise Workers’ Relations Confederation of Thailand, have together expressed concern over a lack of clarity in Burma and Thailand’s migration policy as the two countries latest National Verification (NV) policy initiative expires.
The NV process, despite being plagued by exorbitant broker fees and confusing application processes and costs, has successfully issued over 1.7 million passports to migrants in Thailand, according to Burma government statistics.
Yet Thai statistics show that only around 750,000 workers from Burma have applied for Thai work permits. And only around 200,000 workers from Burma with passports are registered for social security and eligible for health protection.
According to a 2003 memorandum of understanding (MoU) signed between Thailand and Burma, after migrants from Burma have remained in Thailand for four years they must return home for three years before becoming eligible to return to Thailand. This policy, migrant workers rights groups say, “has never been realistic both for employers, workers and the Thai and Burma governments and their respective economies.”
As, “employers don’t want to lose their trained workers at times of labour shortage; workers need to remain in Thailand to support their families; and Burma is not ready to receive back migrants to develop its opening economy.”
More recently, reports have emerged of migrants being required to return to Burma for 1 day, 1 month or even 1 year following completion of the 4 years in Thailand if they were able to return to work legally. But “there has been no policy clarification or official announcement” on this issue, say workers rights groups.
“At this time hundreds of thousands of migrant workers from Burma passed the four year limit to work in Thailand and cannot renew their visas any longer,” the groups added.
Migrant workers from Burma are now facing signicant new challenges in Thailand, as they are left vulnerable to being conned, exploited and extorted by brokers in Thailand and Burma, agencies and corrupt officials through misinformation about visa extensions or the need to return home.
“Significant numbers of migrants have paid up to 15,000 Baht ($500) for new passports, often with new names, thereby forfeiting social security and labour protection rights and falling into fresh debt bondage and passport confiscation,” the labour rights groups warned.
There are an estimated 3 million foreign migrant’s working in Thailand, more than 80% of these come from Burma. Since the end of the 1980s, migrant workers have been irregularly crossing into Thailand from Burma, seeking a better life.
With few legal protections, migrant workers are often found doing the most physically demanding, dirty and dangerous jobs in Thailand, forming an important facet of Thailand’s economy – over the decades they have provided billions of dollars in remittances to support relatives back home – doing jobs unpopular with Thais.