Certificates of Identity to be Issued to Migrant Workers in Thailand

By Nyein Nyein 8 February 2017

CHIANG MAI, Thailand – The issuance of the certificate of identity (CI)—a document for Burmese migrants proving that they are Burmese citizens—will start this month and be provided at six different service centers in Thailand.

U San Yu Kyaw, the Consul from the Burmese Consulate in Chiang Mai said the CI service centers would open soon in Mae Sai—on the Thai-Shan State border—for migrants resides in northern Thailand, as well as in Tak Province’s Mae Sot, and the provinces of Ranong and Samut Sakhon. There will also be two centers in Mahachai, outside of Bangkok.

Aiming to spread knowledge of the procedures of issuing CIs to migrants who do not have legal documents, Thai and Burmese officials joined the workshop organized by Thailand’s Human Rights and Development Foundation on Wednesday in Chiang Mai.

U San Yu Kyaw said that Thai employment and immigration officials, lawyers, and Burmese consulate representatives and migrant workers discussed cooperation in addressing the various problems faced by Burmese migrant workers in Thailand.

Migrants spoke of their difficulties in the workshop, including the inconveniences of reporting every 90-days to the immigration office, being exploited by agents regarding documentation, and problems concerning wages.

Over 160 participants, mostly the Burmese migrants working in Chiang Mai and surrounding areas, joined the session, describing mixed levels of understanding of documentation policies in Thailand, which have changed in recent years.

“Many migrant workers whom we met during our field research have very little knowledge about obtaining a passport and legal documents,” said Sugarnta Sookpaita, a migrant worker adviser from the Human Rights and Development Foundation, on why the workshop was organized; obtaining a CI is seen as a step toward getting a Burmese passport.

Ma Lin, a seamstress who has been working in Chiang Mai for eleven years, said she found the information from the event helpful, as she wanted to know the correct procedure to undertake before the expiry of her own passport.

The governments of Thailand and Burma are still in negotiations regarding how to proceed with migrant workers whose legal documentation will expire while they are working in Thailand; it has been unclear which document holders could apply for a CI.

U Soe Shwe Khin, an elderly migrant living in Chiang Mai, said he understands that migrants holding the purple “migrant passport” would have to apply for standard Burmese passports at the Burmese embassy in Bangkok.

However, questions remain about how to transfer visas between identity documents.

“The Burmese Consul could not say anything about the process of moving existing visas to the new passports, as it is under the Thai immigration authority,” U Soe Shwe Khin said.

Sugarnta Sookpaita said they expect more support from both Thai and Burmese government officials tasked with labor issues, particularly on awareness raising and on the clarification of policies.

She said that the current practice of publishing policy updates on Thai government websites was not enough.

“It should also be shared widely among the migrant community in the languages the migrants use,” Ms. Sookpaita explained.

She urged the Burmese government to issue legal passports at service centers in Chiang Mai, northern Thailand, so as to save migrant workers the time and money required to go to Bangkok.