Government officials will meet their counterparts from the Thai Department of Labour this week to discuss changes to Thailand policy on migrant workers amid conflicting reports over the country’s worker registration program.
The Thai Department of Labour had insisted that Friday, December 14 would be the final date for undocumented migrant workers in Thailand to register for work permits and avoid possible deportation.
The closure of five migrant processing centres in Thailand would have left the country’s estimated 1.5 million illegal workers with no means of registering for the National Verification program, under which they are issued with a temporary passport. So far more than one million workers have applied for the scheme.
However, sources said the program has not yet been halted and the Thai government’s policy on migrant workers was still very much in flux.
State media in Myanmar reported on Wednesday, December 19 that Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra had agreed to a proposal from President U Thein Sein to extend the deadline another three months during their joint visit to the Dawei deep sea port project on Monday, December 17.
Mr Anusorn Kraiwatnussorn, vice minister for labour and social welfare in Bangkok, confirmed that President U Thein Sein had made the request but said that any proposed changes must be voted on by the Thai cabinet and no decisions would be made until the next meeting.
“Right now we are just working through the process,” he said by phone from Bangkok. “Right now we are working with the old system [of registration], but after the meeting we will have a new system.”
Mr Andy Hall, an expert on migrant workers at the Institute for Population and Social Research at Thailand’s Mahidol University, said that at least one migration centre remains open, in Chiang Mai.
“The official law is still that all processing centres must close after [December] 14,” he said. “In Chiang Mai they’re still open ... they’re working through the backlog of applications.”
Asked about the centre still operating in Chiang Mai, Mr Anusorn repeated: “We are working through the process.”
But U Maung Maung, a Deputy Director General in the Office of the Minister for Labour, told The Myanmar Times the Thai government had already agreed to push back the deadline.
He added that Director General U Myo Aung is in Bangkok negotiating with his counterparts in the Thai government.
Migrant rights groups were last week critical of the Thai government’s lack of clarity over its migrant worker policy.
Mr Siem Htay, an advisor to the Migrant Worker’s Rights Network, said the lack of an official statement or policy from the Thai government made life more difficult for the more than one million illegal migrant workers living in Thailand.
“The workers are stressed, they’re scared,” he said. “They’re uncertain about the future.”
Mr Hall agreed with this assessment, adding: “This chaos is a clear indication that the Thais have no [legal] standard for immigration.”