December 14 marks the deadline for migrant Burmese in Thailand to register at National Verification centers. Only migrants who have previously registered for the temporary ID card and migrant worker cards are eligible to register. Estimates vary between 1.3 million and 1.9 million are eligible. There are another 1 – 2 million migrants in Thailand who remain completely undocumented. All undocumented migrants will be liable to deportation. The Thai government is telling them to go home and enter the MOU process in Burma by which they can apply for a passport and a job through a recruiting agency in Burma and come back legally. However, migrants report that this process can take anywhere between 2 weeks and 3 months, during which time the migrants are stuck on the border with no income. And Thai businesses or families are stuck with no workers.
The protection from arrest, extortion, and deportation by immigration and police is one of the main benefits of obtaining the temporary passport. According to previous administrations in Thailand, all those defined as workers under the Labour Protection Act are entitled to minimum wage, regardless of their legal status. As we know they rarely receive it, but becoming documented must be a 100 % guarantee that they receive minimum wage and have a safe working environment.
The rule—that with a passport you can only work for 4 years and then have to leave Thailand for 3 years—must be changed. Migrants have invested around 15,000 baht (US $500) in the documentation; they need to be able to work longer to make money … not just to live. Restrictions on migrants changing employers should be lifted, and migrants who do get permission to change employers should be given longer than 7 days (maximum period of time allowed from leaving one employer and starting work with another), which in effect forces them to take the first employer whatever the conditions.