There are around 3 million regular and irregular Myanmar migrant workers living and working in Thailand. Of this 3 million workers, it is estimated that around: (a) 1.7 million workers possess a Myanmar temporary passport issued as a result of a national verification (NV) process that stems from an agreement under a 2003 Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) between the Royal Thai Government (RTG) and the Myanmar government to regularize irregular migrant workers from Myanmar living and working in Thailand; (b) 200, 000 workers came regularly into Thailand through a formal migration process from Myanmar since 2010 created under the MoU agreement; and (c) 500, 000 workers received a ‘pink card’ through the Thai government’s One Stop Service Center (OSSC) irregular worker regularization policy and processes since May 2014. These three registration status for migrant workers from Myanmar in Thailand brings to a total of 2.4 million the number of migrant workers with regular or legal status to live and work currently in Thailand.
From 2009 to 2013, the RTG and the Myanmar government implemented an agreement on the processing of national verification (NV) for irregular Myanmar migrants in Thailand so that these workers could be issued a temporary passport and become fully legal to work in Thailand. Initially the framework after issuing the Myanmar passport through the NV process from the RTG side was to issue a 2 year of visa and work permit which was extendable for another 2 years on expiry, hence granting permission for an NV worker to remain in Thailand for a maximum of 4 years prior to their having to return to Myanmar for at least 3 years. However, there was no systematic preparation from either Myanmar or Thai governments or worker’s employers on how to maintain the legal status of these workers after their 4 years stay in Thailand begun to expire in 2013.
Without any plans in place, migrant workers who had already completed the 4 years NV visa had to live with an overstay visa and faced many challenges. During that period, many campaigners requested the RTG to provide an urgent remedy. Finally, and in a somewhat unsystematic and little publicised policy u-turn, the RTG then agreed to extend stay permission for this group of workers for another 2 years, hence allowing them up to 6 years legal stay in Thailand instead.
As of 2015, this 6 year visa and stay permission has now begun to expire. However, again both governments do not have any concrete policy or programme in place or publicised on how to maintain these workers’ legal status beyond 6 years. As a consequence, again an unclear future for these workers has arisen and workers have been left confused hearing different rumors on what would happen next. Eventually, these workers will perhaps become irregular workers again.
The MoU formal migration process from Myanmar to Thailand, a policy and practice developed by the Myanmar and Thai governments, requires that persons who entered Thailand regularly through this channel must return to Myanmar if they wish to extend their visa and stay permission after the 4 year visas allowed to be granted to them have expired. From the very start of this MoU process, migrant workers have been exploited and abused at every stage by brokers in both Myanmar and Thailand, leaving them with no choice but to pay extortionate amounts for the processes that are too onerous for the migrant workers and much higher than official fees prescribed by law and regulations. These workers have been forced to work hard to pay off their debts incurred. With the cost for the current visa extension processes beyond 4 years currently required under this registration channel charged by brokers, plus the cost of travelling back to Myanmar, these workers will only end up with more debt incurred. Some migrant workers who chose this MoU formal migration process have after 4 years of staying in Thailand simply opted to overstay their visa validity and become irregular to avoid returning to Myanmar.
It appears as a result of recent regularization processes announced by the Thai government since 2014 that the next logical step for migrant workers who completed their 4 or 6-year visas to stay and work legally in Thailand simply abandon their temporary passports and apply for the Pink Card through the RTG’s OSSC processes. As a result, these workers are no longer entitled to social security schemes and work accident compensation and also have their freedom of movement limited to a province of registration. Once these workers have registered for this pink card, once again however they will still need according to the official policy to return to Myanmar for another national verification process and hence will once again during this verification process and prior to receiving another passport become victims of brokers who take advantage of this situation stemming from lack of a long term and consistent migration policy between the Myanmar and Thai Governments.
There are also many challenges with the Myanmar government’s policies regarding migrant workers’ protection, including concerning services which assist migrant workers to work legally in Thailand. As an example, the process for issuing a passport at the Myanmar Embassy for those who have required house registration documents takes up to 4 to 6 months when in fact with a house registration and Myanmar ID card the same process takes only 10 days when undertaken in Myanmar. Applying for a passport in the Myanmar Embassy in Thailand also proves to be a more difficult process for those with expired visas. MWRN earnestly urge the Myanmar government to implement efficient and user-friendly processes to support the government’s initial objective of protecting migrant workers to work legally in Thailand in accordance with the MoU.
We, the Migrant Worker Rights Network (M.W.R.N), therefore request the Myanmar and Thai Governments to give immediate attention to the following recommendations which will have a considerable impact on the lives of migrant workers in Thailand who faced the above difficulties:
Reissue passports and extend the visas within Thailand or at border check points for those
Myanmar workers whose 6 year visas have expired without deportation through efficient, fast and low cost transparent processes created following immediate negotiation between Myanmar government and the RTG.
Reissue passports and extend the visas within Thailand or at border check points for those Myanmar workers whose 4 year formal migration MoU process visas have expired without deportation through efficient, fast and low cost transparent processes created following immediate negotiation between the Myanmar government and RTG.
Implement efficient, fast and low cost transparent processes for the national verification or issuance of passports for migrant worker who are ‘Pink Card’ holders.
Publish widely, strategically and transparently all policies and fees relevant to migrant worker registration and regularization for the above mentioned processes to avoid unacceptable exploitation by brokers.
Create, implement and monitor closely legal remedies which can prevent brokers from overcharging fees to migrant workers and to penalize those brokers who violate the law.
The Migrant Worker Rights Network (MWRN) was founded in 2009 by Myanmar migrant workers from Samut Sakorn district (Mahachai), Thailand to work on issues which affect all migrant workers. MWRN is working together with both Myanmar and Thai government related sectors, civil society organizations and international organizations on education, social and migrant rights issues. Currently there are 4, 511 members of MWRN.