THE deadline for Cambodians and other migrant workers in Thailand to initiate a process of nationality verification in order to renew their work permits has been extended to Tuesday, a Thai rights group said, though concerns remain about the threat of mass deportations potentially facing thousands of workers.
Sunday was to have been the deadline for Thailand’s 1.5 million registered migrant workers to submit documents expressing their intent to participate in nationality verification, allowing them to extend their work permits. Thailand’s Migrant Justice Programme (MJP) said in a statement Friday, however, that the deadline had been extended by two days, citing documents from the Thai Ministry of Labour.
Thai government spokesman Panitan Wattanayagorn said Sunday that he was unaware of a change in the deadline, and that such logistics were the responsibility of the Ministry of Labour. Officials from Thailand’s Ministry of Labour could not be reached for comment.
Following the deadline to initiate the nationality verification process, migrant workers in Thailand have until March 31 to submit biographical information to their home governments, allowing them to extend their work permits. The initiative, Bangkok says, will allow Thailand to better regulate immigration and give migrant workers access to government services.
Nationality verification is open only to the 1.5 million workers, including more than 100,000 from Cambodia, already registered to work in Thailand. Workers in Thailand illegally, as well as legal workers who do not submit to the nationality-verification process, will be deported, Panitan said.
“They are illegal workers. If they are arrested, they will be deported,” he said, adding that the policy is “based on the international practice in every country”.
Critics, however, say the policy has been instituted unnecessarily swiftly and provides no recourse for workers who have entered Thailand illegally.
“It is addressing regular migrants and leaves out the irregular migrants, and that is something that represents a threat of massive expulsions, with the obvious consequences of violations of human rights. That’s a great concern to me,” said Jorge Bustamente, the UN’s special rapporteur on the human rights of migrants, in an interview with Radio Australia last week.
Andy Hall, director of the MJP, said Thailand has done little to inform workers about the deadlines facing them, and that registration is too expensive for many in any case.
“The Thai government has not published one page of information for workers about the nationality-verification process,” Hall said. “They have not published any material that is suitable for migrant workers to allow them to understand the process.”