Thailand to Allow Migrant Workers from Myanmar, Other Neighbors to Return

By Zaw Zaw Htwe 24 July 2020

YANGON—The Thai government will allow the re-entry of more than 100,000 foreign workers from neighboring countries including Myanmar to fill labor shortages in the construction and food production sectors, according to Myanmar migrant right organizations and Thai news reports.

Since March 25, Thailand has banned entry to foreigners in order to control the spread of COVID-19 in the country.

New reports said Thailand’s Center for COVID-19 Situation Administration (CCSA) on Wednesday gave the green light to the country’s Labor Ministry to seek migrant workers from Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar and Vietnam.

The country will also allow the entry of foreign businessmen, diplomats, exhibitors, film crews, medical tourists and Thailand Elite Card holders, according to the Bangkok Post.

According to Thailand-based Myanmar migrant rights activist U Htoo Chit, executive director of the Foundation for Education and Development (FED), the Thai government wants to rehire many migrant workers who returned home during the COVID-19 pandemic, as it is faced with a labor shortage.

“Thailand plans to go back work. So, at the request of employers, they plan to bring back former foreign workers who returned home during the pandemic,” U Htoo Chit said.

News reports also said the Thai Labor Ministry would bring back 69,235 former foreign workers who already have work permits and visas, if they want to return to Thailand for work. Additionally, the Labor Ministry would approve employment for 42,168 fresh foreign workers who have been provided with demand letters.

However, employers who want to hire foreign workers have been asked to arrange organizational quarantine centers on their own premises for employees who return back to work. The quarantine centers are required to meet COVID-19 guidelines and must be able to prevent migrant workers from going out during any quarantine period.

All foreign workers must have medical certificates in order to enter Thailand and they must all be placed under quarantine for 14 days. Then, they must be tested for COVID-19 before beginning work.

CCSA spokesperson Dr. Taweesilp Visanuyothin said people who stay at conventional state quarantine centers have to pay nearly 20,000 Thai baht (866,000 kyats) per person and companies don’t want to pay for such quarantine.

U Htoo Chit said he is concerned that workers’ salaries will be cut to cover the cost of quarantine and COVID-19 tests.

“During previous processes [legalizing work status, etc.], our workers were exploited by employers and brokers. So, we are concerned that workers’ salaries will be cut to cover the quarantine fees, though the Thai government said employers are responsible for the cost,” he said.

Currently, more than 65,000 Myanmar workers who have already been provided demand letters by employers from Thailand—under the bilateral labor employment system agreed in accordance with the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) signed by the two countries—are waiting to enter Thailand, according to the Myanmar Overseas Employment Agencies Federation (MOEAF).

“No detailed discussion on sending workers has been held between the two governments, though Thailand has permitted the re-entry of foreign workers,” said U Peter Nyunt Maung, chairman of MOEAF.

He added that they were awaiting legal instructions from the Myanmar Ministry of Labor as to how to send the workers back to Thailand.

U Myo Aung, permanent secretary of the Myanmar Ministry of Labor, Immigration and Population (MOLIP), told The Irrawaddy on Friday that they need to discuss the details with the Thai Labor Ministry to be certain who will cover the cost of COVID-19 tests and quarantine for the workers.

“We need to know clearly whether employers can cover the charges,” U Myo Aung said.

He said MOLIP will discuss with MOEAF to get an understanding of their difficulties on the ground and will discuss it with the Thai Labor Ministry to find suitable ways to send the workers back.

Migrant rights organizations estimate that before the COVID-19 pandemic, there were nearly 4 million Myanmar laborers living and working in Thailand.

U Tayzar Aung, administrator of Karen State’s Myawaddy district, a border town across from Mae Sot, Thailand, told The Irrawaddy that as of Thursday, more than 91,000 Myanmar migrants had retuned home from Thailand via the Myawaddy-Mae Sot land border gate since March 21.

Meanwhile, hundreds more have retuned home through the Kawthoung-Ranong border gate in Myanmar’s Tanintharyi Region and the Mae Sai-Tachileik border gate in Shan State.

However, many migrant returnees are now waiting to return to Thailand. Many workers have been arrested for illegally entering Thailand during the COVID-19 lockdown.