PHUKET CITY: In an effort to legalize untold thousands of its citizens working illegally in Thailand, the Burmese government will tomorrow open ‘citizen identification centers’ at three immigration checkpoints along the Thai border.
The announcement came at a seminar at the Thavorn Grand Plaza Hotel on Saturday attended by Burmese Deputy Foreign Affairs Minister U Maung Myaint, Thai Labor Minister Phaitoon Kaeothong and other top officials.
U Maung Myaint is in Phuket to attend the 42nd Asean Foreign Ministers Meeting and related activities that begin at Laguna Phuket on Friday.
The three checkpoints where ‘citizen verification’ will be offered are opposite their Thai counterparts in Ranong, Chiang Rai’s Mae Sai District, and Mae Sod District in Tak province.
In what has been described as a ‘last chance’ opportunity to register Burmese workers by the current government, employers have until July 30 to register their intent to hire Burmese workers at local employment offices.
Under the scheme, workers who can prove they are from Burma, Cambodia or Laos will be able to register as legal workers.
Those whose citizenship is confirmed by Burma will then be issued ‘worker’s passports’ they can use to enter the country legally after getting a 2,000-baht ‘work visa’ stamped at the Thai border.
The visas would allow them to work for up to two years, though they would still be required to have their worker ID cards extended annually.
Citizenship verification has long been a stumbling block in getting workers properly registered, Mr Phaitoon said.
In many cases this was due to communication problems that could be addressed by having Burmese officials working directly with Burmese people in their own language, Mr Phaitoon said.
U Maung Myaint told the meeting that unofficial estimates of the number of Burmese working in Thailand surpassed the one million mark in the year 2000 and have now reached 1.2 million.
A natural human desire to improve their lot in life has been behind the exodus, he admitted.
“This situation will continue to create problems in the Thai labor market until a solution is found… Our government is also uncomfortable if our people are working illegally in Thailand,” he said.
Both the Thai and Burmese governments have been working for five years to find such a solution, he added.
Each center is designed to issue about 200 work passports daily, though they would try to issue up to 600 per day if required.
The Thai government is currently considering a request by the Burmese to lower the visa fee from 2,000 baht to 500 baht, he said.
U Maung Myaint dismissed as rumor reports that the Burmese government would use the information gathered during registration to tax or charge workers’ families back home.
“I can confirm we will not tax them at all,” he said.
All four sides – both governments, the workers and their employers – stand to benefit from the new registration drive, he said.
— Atchaa Khamlo
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