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Hundreds of thousands lack Thai work papers

Migrant workers hold on to a Thai employment permit and a border pass at the Thai-Cambodia border near the town of Poipet in Banteay Meanchey province
Migrant workers hold on to a Thai employment permit and a border pass at the Thai-Cambodia border near the town of Poipet in Banteay Meanchey province last year. Hong Menea

Hundreds of thousands lack Thai work papers

With less than three weeks left until the deadline, over 300,000 Cambodian migrants registered in Thailand have not completed the verification process necessary to receive work visas, raising the possibility of a repeat of last year’s mass exodus.

According to figures from the Thai Labour Ministry obtained yesterday, out of almost 520,000 registered Cambodian migrants, approximately 98,000 already had all the necessary documentation, while around 107,000 have completed the verification process and now possess work visas valid until March 2016. But almost 314,000 do not have passports and are yet to be verified.

According to Andy Hall, a migrants’ rights activist focused on Thailand and Myanmar, the sheer volume of workers yet to complete the process makes verification before the deadline “impossible”.

“It’s going to take a long time, it’s just not realistic,” Hall said.

Those numbers also appear to leave more than 200,000 Cambodian migrants unaccounted for, after about 740,000 were registered last year during a registration amnesty following an exodus of at least 200,000 in mid-2014.

“This shows the problems with the registration system and the chaos and confusion,” said Hall.

Spokespeople for Thailand’s Foreign and Labour Ministries could not be reached for comment yesterday.

The current verification process was approved in early-March and stipulated that all migrant workers had to be registered by March 31.

Those who registered without becoming verified had to then apply for a new temporary work permit by June 30 in order to receive one-year work visas. Anyone who has not completed the process by that date is eligible for deportation.

But Hall says it is likely the deadline will be extended, in large part because “Thailand relies on its migrant workers”.

According to Meng Seang, deputy chief of party for USAID’s Counter Trafficking in Persons project, the prospect of an extension was discussed by Thai border officials and representatives of Banteay Meanchey province during a meeting of officials, NGOs and civil society groups in Poipet last week.

However, Seang stressed that no representative of the Thai Labour Ministry was present at the meeting, and as yet “there is no new regulation or policy for an extension” in place.

In the event an extension is not implemented and the Thai government does begin deportations, it could prove extremely costly for both governments.

“Last year it cost an estimated $5 million to deal with 200,000 migrants,” said Seang. “This time it would be many more than 200,000.”

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