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Workers fear Thai visa deadline

Myanmar Times, Myanmar, 3 October 2017 - Long queues, a slow process and allegations of opportunists seeking money from those who want faster proceedings have marred the citizenship verification process for undocumented migrant workers from Myanmar.

They are racing against time to receive legitimate working status in Thailand by the end of this year.

In June, a new executive decree on foreign workers’ employment sparked fresh panic among undocumented migrant labourers and their employees as it carries more severe punishments against those involved in the illegal hiring of alien workers. The enactment of the decree prompted an exodus of unregistered workers back to their homelands.

In a bid to assuage concerns, Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha later invoked Section 44 of the interim charter to suspend the enforcement of some decree sections. This gave a 180-day reprieve to those involved in hiring undocumented migrant workers. The grace period runs until January 1.

Scores of unregistered workers from Myanmar were scrambling to have their nationality verified at designated centres so they could apply for proper working visas.

After undergoing this process, handled by Myanmar authorities, they will receive certificates of identity (CI) and other documents.

Then they must undergo a medical check-up, buy health insurance and seek the correct visa and work permit. These steps, which are dealt with by Thai officials, are carried out in the same centres.

A 50-year-old farmer in Chon Buri who goes by the nickname “Ton” recently brought his unregistered migrant workers for medical check-ups at the verification centre in Samut Prakan. He describes it as a frustrating experience.

He said the workers had to stay at the centre from 4am to 8pm to complete the verification process but missed the medical check-ups, which ended at 6pm, and were told to come back later to complete this step.

But when they returned the next day at 4am they were informed their queue numbers were now invalid and sent to the back of the line – meaning they had to wait while another 500 people were processed ahead of them, Ton said. “I’m surprised because we came here so early but new arrivals are still jumping ahead of us. Where were they yesterday while we waited all day?” he said.

“This is not the one-stop service claimed in the public relations campaign,” said one agent who was shepherding a batch of migrant workers to get their identities verified. “This is the third time we’ve had to bring them here. This time it’s for the the medical check-up. We have to come back a fourth time to actually collect the work permits.”

Another employer said his workers now have to wait until December 6 to go through the process again due to various hiccups experienced along the way, prompting concerns they may fail to meet the end-of-year deadline. If that was the case, he would be slapped with a big fine.

A source at the Labour Ministry said reports have emerged that brokers are taking advantage of the verification process and demanding money to help workers jump the long queues. Labour Minister Sirichai Distakul has instructed officials to look into the problems.

Waranon Pitiwan, director-general of the Department of Employment, said the nationality verification centres are handled by authorities from neighbouring countries. He said he was confident no ministry officials were involved in wrongdoing.

More than 700,000 alien workers must be processed before the end of the year. Of this number, 400,000 are from Myanmar. “Everyone wants to get their nationality verified quickly so they can stay here and work for another two years,” Waranon said.

Myanmar authorities are marshalling more staff and equipment to speed things up and help everyone meet the deadline, he said. At present there are six verification centres for workers from Myanmar. Two are in Samut Sakhon and one each in Samut Prakan, Ranong, Tak’s Mae Sot district, and Chiang Rai’s Mae Sai district. Three more centres may be opened, officials said.

According to Waranon, each one can accommodate up to 400 people a day. Queuing problems and fears of missing the deadline have drawn in brokers who demand money to fast-track the process, including filling in forms in both Thai and Burmese.

“The government of each country will speed up the process to get them verified in time,” Waranon said. A ministry source said between 800 and 1,000 CIs will be distributed daily once new centres open and more staff are brought in to service them.


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