Thursday, August 17, 2017

More than 600,000 migrants expected to get ID cards ahead of Thai deadline

The government hopes to dole out more than 640,000 “certificates of identity” in a new attempt to legalise undocumented Myanmar migrant workers in Thailand ahead of an impending deadline, according to officials from Myanmar’s Department of Labour.

Migrant workers in Chiang Mai. (Kaung Htet/The Myanmar Times)Migrant workers in Chiang Mai. (Kaung Htet/The Myanmar Times)Department of Labour director general U Myo Aung said the Thai government has warned Myanmar workers to get the identity certificates before March 31 or face possible arrest.

The number eligible for the certificate – which remains valid for two years – represents just a fraction of the estimated 3 million Myanmar migrants who work in Thailand, however.

Only holders of temporary residency cards, known as “pink cards”, that were given to migrants during a registration period that ended in October can apply.

After Thailand’s May 22 coup, the newly installed junta began tightening restrictions on the country’s foreign labour force, which is largely undocumented. Migrants lacking passports, residency cards and work permits were allowed to register for temporary documents during a June to October 2014 window. In order to extend the temporary documents, migrants’ embassies were tasked with verifying nationality and issuing identification documents by the end of March.

Of the 1.6 million total migrants who registered in Thailand by October, more than 640,000 were from Myanmar, according to the Thai Ministry of Labour figures.

The Myanmar embassy in Bangkok is making preparations to handle 600,000 applications from workers and their dependents during March, U Myo Aung said last month.

The migrant workers will be able to apply for the certificate in 21 different cities in Thailand.

Migrants who already hold a national ID as well as a Myanmar household registration document can apply directly for a passport however, U Myo Aung added.

Filing an application for the certificate will cost 30 baht (about US$1) per worker. Those who qualify will be charged another 400 baht (US$13).

However, migrant rights’ advocates said the process will not be straightforward because many pink cards contain incorrect information, including misspelled or incorrect names.

“The employer’s name might be listed as the broker’s name and that will be the problem as Thai police can arrest [the migrant] if the real employer’s name doesn’t match,” said said U Ko Tun, a coordinator for the Myanmar Migrant Workers Rights Network.

U Myo Aung confirmed this would slow down the process. He said even the names of migrant workers are sometimes spelled incorrectly on the Thai-issued cards.

“For example, we spell Myint Aung, but Thai officials might spell it Myn Ang. Then we don’t know which spelling to put on the certificate,” U Myo Aung said.

Migrant rights groups said the system, which follows several earlier attempts to register undocumented workers, will make it more difficult to work legally in Thailand.

“The registration policy generally changes with politics, so it is inconsistent. This time around it is very bureaucratic and detailed. It makes migrants and their employers have to spend time they don't feel they have,” said Brahm Press, the director of MAP Foundation in Chiang Mai.