MORE than 50,000 Cambodian migrant workers face deportation from Thailand after failing to reapply for work permits on time, a Thai official said Monday, as a rights group questioned whether Thailand could actually afford to lose so much labour.
March 2 was the deadline for Thailand’s roughly 1.3 million registered migrants to apply for new work permits and initiate participation in a process of nationality verification, wherein they were to submit documents to their home governments in order to secure the permits.
Bangkok has said it plans to deport workers who missed the deadline.
According to statistics from Thailand’s Ministry of Labour – provided on Monday by the Migrant Justice Programme – 73,453 out of 124,902 registered Cambodian migrant workers had reapplied for work permits on time.
Suphat Guukun, deputy director general of Thailand’s Employment Office, said that the 51,449 registered migrants who had failed to do so are now considered illegal.
“If they didn’t apply for the permit, they are not allowed to work,” he said.
A total of 557,484 registered working migrants from Cambodia, Laos and Myanmar missed the March 2 deadline, a number that does not include an estimated 1,000,000 unregistered migrants believed to be living in Thailand illegally.
“This [process] is normal, it’s not just Thailand,” Suphat said. “It is like a visa. If you do not have permission to work, you cannot work. This is normal [practice] around the world.”
However, Andy Hall, director of the Migrant Justice Programme (MJP) in Bangkok, said Thailand’s said that intent to deport workers who failed to meet the deadline “seems self-defeating”.
“The policy [from the government] is that if they did not make the deadline, they will be deported,” he said. “It’s about 6 or 7 percent of the workforce, around 6 percent of their GDP [gross domestic product].”
Bangkok has not said when deportations might begin, and Hall said it was unclear whether they would actually take place, adding that deported workers would likely need to be replaced.
“We don’t know whether they will reopen registration or deport them,” he said. “March 2 was the deadline; they had to [also] enter into the nationality-verification process by then. The official policy is if they missed it, they’ll be deported.”
The Cambodian Ministry of Foreign Affairs could not be reached for comment, and a spokesman for Thailand’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said he did not know enough about the policy to comment.