Thai berry seekers left hanging: Labour Ministry plans visa harvest solution

The Labour Ministry of Thailand plans to solve the suspension of visa applications for Thais seeking wild-berry picking jobs in Finland by the 2025 harvest season, as disclosed by Somchai Morakotsriwan, the director-general of the Department of Employment.

The ministry, in collaboration with other state agencies including those from the Foreign Affairs Ministry, is working towards a solution following Finland’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ decision to suspend the acceptance of wild-berry pickers’ visa applications from Thais for the summer 2024 harvest season. This decision was due to concerns about exploitation and trafficking.

“The move is temporary,” stated Somchai Morakotsriwan, adding that the Labour Ministry is in the process of devising solutions. A short-term measure is the halt of a recruitment programme for berry picking jobs in Finland and Sweden until regulations are improved for better protection of workers’ rights. As a long-term measure, the ministry plans to propose talks on labour imports and exports to the governments of both countries.

Furthermore, to curb the trafficking and exploitation of workers, amendments will be made to laws and regulations to penalise employers and coordinators involved in these offences.

Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin announced the government is negotiating a mutual visa exemption programme with European countries. In light of tightened guidelines in February 2023, the ministry assessed Schengen visa conditions after the 2023 harvest season, following allegations of serious crimes during that period.

Historically, visas for wild-berry picking were issued on the presumption that pickers enter Finland for purposes similar to tourism, collect wild berries under the right of public access (Everyman’s Right), and sell the natural products they have harvested to a party of their choice. However, the Foreign Ministry highlighted that most pickers had employment contracts.

The ministry, therefore, stated that due to the risks of exploitation and trafficking, a long-term solution must be found by the 2025 season. The suspension of visa applications for berry pickers extends to the Embassy of Finland’s consular district in Bangkok, which covers Thailand, Cambodia, and Myanmar. As a result, Schengen visas will not be granted to wild-berry pickers from these countries for the summer 2024 harvest season, reported Bangkok Post.

A working group will review regulatory options in spring 2024 and visa applications for purposes other than berry picking will be processed as usual.

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Mitch Connor

Mitch is a Bangkok resident, having relocated from Southern California, via Florida in 2022. He studied journalism before dropping out of college to teach English in South America. After returning to the US, he spent 4 years working for various online publishers before moving to Thailand.

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