New work permit rules make for an uncertain May Day for migrant workers

The Nation/ANN

WORKING IN Thailand is becoming harder and more expensive for unskilled migrant workers from neighbouring countries after the government imposed tougher policies addressing illegal |immigration.

Residing in the Kingdom for more than 12 years, 28-year-old Ei Dhan Dar from Myamar has already adapted to Thai society and can speak the language |fluently.

But despite her integration into society, she said she felt increasingly uncertain about her future in Thailand, since tough new regulations to register for work permits were issued, which entail a difficult and expensive process.

“Recently, I had to spend nearly Bt10,000 for the work permit registration fee and other related costs just to make my status legal, but I only earn Bt300 salary per day. It’s like we work hard to pay Thai bureaucrats and we are getting poorer in Thailand,” she said.


“As I’ve lived in this country for a long time, I now feel that I have a bond with Thailand and I always hope that one day I can live comfortably in this country, but now I am not sure about this dream.”

Ei Dhan Dar is just one among hundreds of thousand migrant workers who have struggled to legalise their work status.

Labour Rights Promotion Network Foundation coordinator Surachai Mintun said his organisation had received many calls for help from migrant workers across the country, who had problems with the recent migrant worker registration, including some who were facing deportation.

“There are so many workers having problems with the registration because the regulation is unclear, specifies too short a period to register for a work permit, and lacks information for applicants,” Surachai said.

According to the rule implemented this year, migrant workers who hold temporary pink identification cards have to register certificates of identity to get a passport and Thai visa, and then they have to register for a work permit within 15 days. If they fail to register within that period, their status will be illegal and they will be |subject to deportation.

The government cancelled its recognition of the temporary pink identification cards for migrant workers nationwide on March 31, requiring migrant workers to hold valid visas and work permits. There were an estimated 1.3 million migrant workers holding the temporary pink identification cards.

As a result of the rule, Surachai said migrant workers faced two major issues. First, many workers were unable to register for the work permit in time for various reasons, so even if they were |legally registered with authorities and holding a Thai visa, they |suddenly risked arrest and faced deportation.

The second problem is the cost of registration. Although the official cost was only Bt910, Surachai said, many workers had to employ an agent because the entire process was complicated and slow, which could cost as much as Bt10,000.

“It is very hard for workers to register by themselves because many of them cannot communicate in Thai and have limited knowledge about the bureaucratic procedures, so registering through an agent is the easiest way, but there is an extra financial burden,” he said.

The tough new regulations are justified as an effort to tackle human trafficking and illegal migrant workers by the Labour Ministry.

Labour Ministry deputy permanent secretary Varanon Peetiwan has said the government wants to control the entire migrant labour system, meaning that all migrant workers should be brought to Thailand under the memorandum of understanding (MOU) system only.

Sakultara Bhupornwiwat, owner of a Samut Songkram squid processing factory, said she would like the government to reconsider the policy, because the MOU system was unreliable and unsuitable in practice.

“If I want to import workers via the MOU system, I have to pay a large amount of money first before the agent will recruit workers for me and there is no guarantee that I’ll get the workers. The business cannot rely on that,” Sakultara said.

“Moreover, the workers in the MOU system have to pay more than Bt10,000 in their home countries just to apply to work in Thailand. They cannot afford such an expensive fee. If they could pay that amount of money, why would they want to work in unskilled jobs in Thailand in the first place?”

She said that if the situation remained unchanged under the new policy, there would be a serious shortage of workers in the near future, which would harm not only her business but the country’s economy as a whole.