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Migrant Workers in Thailand Face ‘Temporary’ Hurdle

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Cambodian migrant workers queue at the Thai-Cambodia border checkpoint near the border town Poi Pet. KT/Chor Sokunthea

Thai immigration authorities have postponed issuing new work permits to Cambodian migrant workers who lack them from this month, but will resume doing so in August, officials at Cambodia’s Labor Ministry said.
The move follows a resolution by the Thai cabinet in February requiring all migrant workers from Cambodia, Laos and Myanmar who held work permits as of the end of March to renew them by the end of July, according to a statement from the public relations bureau of the Thai Labor Ministry. It said the move was being made to ensure “systematic management of foreign workers to meet international standards” and the legality of foreign workers.
A Cambodian committee in Thailand set up to assist Cambodian migrants obtain documents to work in that country will halt its services, Cambodian officials said. That committee provides undocumented Cambodian workers with passports or travel cards so that they can apply for work permits in Thailand at the 77 One Step Service centers for migrant workers.
Up to 1 million Cambodians live and work in Thailand and about 40 percent of them do so illegally, according to estimates by migrant rights groups.
“Following a request from Thailand’s Ministry of Labor, the committee decided to postpone providing passports or travel cards to Cambodian workers overseas from April 1 to July 29,” said Labor Minister Ith Samheng who also chairs the committee that helps Cambodian migrant workers become legal in Thailand.
Mr. Samheng said, however, that in order to ensure convenience and speed up the process of providing documents to unregistered workers, Thai authorities had agreed to Cambodia’s request to allow the committee to begin receiving applications for passports and travel cards at the One Step Service centers for migrant workers from July 1.
“The committee will issue the passport or travel cards to the workers so that they can proceed with the legal process through the One Stop Service centers from August 1,” Mr. Samheng said, adding that workers who change employers also can also seek new work permits.
Dy Thehoya, program officer at the Center for Alliance of Labor and Human Rights, said his group had raised concerns that Cambodian migrant workers in Thailand were required to pay extra fees to fill in forms or documents at the One Stop Service centers.
Mr. Samheng said staff at his ministry and in the committee to assist migrant workers had never required any migrant worker to pay extra fees.
“In cases where someone claims to be an official at the Cambodian embassy or on the committee and demands extra money, please tell the workers to complain to Thai authorities or inform the Cambodia Embassy in Thailand. Cambodia and Thailand will post a list of the official service fees at the One Stop Service centers from August,” he said.
Mr. Thehoya said yesterday that Cambodian migrant workers often pay border officials between 1,000 ($28.50) and 4,000 baht to obtain travel cards.
It is commonplace for migrant workers to be overcharged to receive documents to work in Thailand legally, he added.
The process of shifting undocumented workers to legal ones is not going smoothly because officials are slow to act and the process itself is intermittent, Mr. Thehoya said. This makes migrant workers more vulnerable to scams, including those run by people who claim to be representatives of the Cambodian embassy who say they can speed up the process and ensure higher paying jobs.  
“We congratulate the ministry if it is really willing to solve the issue for our workers, but we will wait and see whether it is effective or not,” Mr. Thehoya said.

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