Thailand and US Debates on Migrant Workers

by admin on October 12, 2009

On the surface, the United States and Thailand do not share too many immediate similarities.  One glaring similarity, however, is their status as a host country for thousand of legal and illegal migrants, most fleeing few economic prospects in their home countries to look for better work in neighboring countries.

For Thailand, the majority of migrant workers are from Myanmar, working in the areas of fisheries,   and fish processing; agriculture; construction; and as domestic helpers.  Significant numbers of migrants also come from Laos and Cambodia.  In the US, the majority of migrants are from Mexico. The government of both the United States and Thailand are currently reviewing their immigration policies for migrant workers. Thailand issues temporary work and residence permits to Burmese workers.  These permits are the equivalent of US visas, for example, the H2-A for agricultural workers.

 The US Embassy in Bangkok and the US Consulate in Chiang Mai recently hosted a labor economist from the University of California—Dr. Phillip Martin—to speak at a series of conferences in Thailand.  These conferences addressed questions facing both Thailand and the US, particularly the rights of migrant workers, and the possibility of extending permanent residency or citizenship for migrant workers.

In July of this year, Thailand announced new registration for migrant workers in the country.  The system involves four time specific steps:  before 31 July, migrants were expected to apply for a new registration document, even if they already possessed registration; next, before 14 August, migrants were expected to get a medical health examination; only after these steps may migrants apply for their work permit.  Finally, however, migrants are expected to go through a “national verification” process, meaning they must confirm their citizenship.

Thai Prime Minister Abhisit recently acknowledged that the Thai government must legalize the status of these migrants and bring them into the formal job market.

But many are questioning whether the national verification process will in fact protect the rights of migrants.  Some migrants and migrant advocacy groups believe that the verification process will open up migrants’ families to extortion by Myanmar authorities or put migrants themselves at risk of deportation.

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

ray May 27, 2011 at 6:48 am

my freind in chiangmai is an illegal burmese,she recently married a thai national they have a newborn child,yesterday the police turned up to arrest her and her father who is also an illegal,some one in the village dobbed them in,however they where not home at the time, they now have to hide out in another area until the dust settles, they have asked if there is anything i can do,apart from throw a bit of money at it if they can find some kind of permits , i wouldent know where to start.any suggestions would be appreciated.

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