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Thailand Plans to Open Borders to 400,000 Foreign Laborers Next Month

Thailand will open its borders to as many as 400,000 foreign workers next month after a 20-month shutdown as it allows laborers from three neighboring countries to alleviate a workforce shortage, the country’s COVID-19 task-force said Friday.

Workers from Cambodia, Laos and Myanmar will be allowed to enter through five border checkpoints and can work in the country for two years, a task-force spokesman said, adding the government would ensure that those laborers have been vaccinated.

“The prime minister, who is the chairman of the COVID-19 task force, has approved the measure,” Taweesilp Wissanuyothin, spokesman for Center for the COVID-19 Situation Administration (CCSA), told reporters on Friday.

“Those who are smuggling foreign laborers should stop it now because the measure was approved and the laborers should come in legally.”

Previously, Labor Minister Suchart Chomklin had reported on a survey by the Thai Chamber of Commerce regarding the need for foreign workers as Thailand recovers from the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The survey results on demand for foreign workers exceeded 400,000 positions,” the Ministry of Labor said in a news release on Wednesday.

“The effort aims to resolve the labor shortage following the nation’s opening.”

The government signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with private employers to allow the foreigners to join the workforce.

“We are wary of illegal workers and this is a short-term measure. For those employers who don’t have enough workers, they can find them through the MoU,” Suchart said.

Officials said the government plans to set aside about 500,000 vaccine doses for unvaccinated workers or those who previously received their first shot.

They are to be quarantined for 14 days while those who have been fully vaccinated are to quarantine for seven days.

Suchart said government agencies were preparing to establish two checkpoints for workers along both the Myanmar and Laos borders, as well as one along the Cambodian border, beginning in December.

Since Thailand shuttered its borders in March 2020, NGOs estimated that as many as 1 million migrant workers returned to their homes, adding that about 4 million foreigners – legal and illegal – were in the workforce before the pandemic.

For now, Suchart urged undocumented workers, including about 60,000 who entered the country illegally during the COVID-19 outbreak, to register with the government.

In the future, employers who plan to recruit foreigners would need to pay between 9,700 baht (U.S. $296) and 26,720 baht ($816) for each worker that would cover paper work, pre-departure and post-quarantine COVID testing, quarantine expenses, medical plan and social security funds, according to Suchart.

An NGO official, meanwhile, said not everyone could afford the high costs of employing foreign workers.

“The cost is steep … and small employers may have problems with preparing a place for quarantine,” Sompong Srakaew, president of the Labor Protection Network Foundation, told BenarNews on Friday. 

The foundation’s website said it was formed to improve the lives of migrant laborers in Thailand by addressing the injustice brought on by discrimination and inequality.

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