PHUKET: More than 50,000 illegal workers from neighboring countries were registered with the Phuket Provincial Employment Office during the grace period that ended on July 30.
However, scores more still working illegally on the island, and an Immigration crackdown looms.
Phuket Provincial Employment Office chief Thanawan Tongsukchote announced that 7,790 Thai employers registered their desire to employ a total of 109,389 foreign workers before the deadline.
Of these workers, the vast majority were Burmese (108,847), followed by Lao nationals (503) and Cambodians (39).
The announcement came at a meeting at Phuket Provincial Hall on Monday chaired by Phuket Governor Wichai Phraisa-ngop.
About 50,000 illegal alien workers successfully passed the first step in the registration process.
The campaign has raised the number of workers registered with the employment office to about 74,000.
Newly-registered workers will now have until August 29 to become completely legal by submitting health clearance certificates and having ‘work passports’ issued by their home countries.
Claiming to care about the huge illegal migration of its people into Thailand, the Burmese government has set up ‘ID centers’ at three of its checkpoints along the Thailand border to issue the passports.
After the work passports are issued, workers will be allowed to re-enter Thailand by having 2,000-baht ‘work visas’ stamped into their passports.
The disparity between the number of workers now registered with the employment office and the number sought by employers provides a rough estimate of the number of illegal low-wage workers that are still working in Phuket, Mr Thanawan said.
Given the shortfall, the Thai government has already contacted the governments of Burma, Laos and Cambodia about ways to register more low-wage workers sought by prospective employers.
The reason for the disparity, at least 30,000 workers, is likely due to the fact that the workers fear their home governments will not be able to verify their citizenship or will use the information against them, such as imposing taxes on the wages earned.
Others may simply be having problems coming up with the 2,000 baht fee for the work visa, Mr Thanawan said.
“Personally I would like all of them to become legally registered,” he said.
However, if the number of workers from those countries hits the 100,000 mark it would mean there would be about one for every five Thais who call Phuket home, he said.
“That’s a very high ratio. It would be better if we could find Thai people willing to fill these positions,” he said.
“In the past, migrant workers from other parts of the country, especially Isarn, were willing to do this kind of work. But now we are unable to find workers who are willing to do manual labor, so we have to rely on foreigners. Where would we be without them?” he concluded rhetorically.
In a related story, Phuket Special Branch Police chief Maj Arthit Suesattabongkot told the Gazette last month that there are about 50 stateless ethnic Rohingyas living on the island.
Spread out across the island, most of them sell roti and claim to be Burmese, he said.
However, as the Burmese government fails to recognize the ethnic Muslims as its citizens the Rohingyas face an uncertain fate when the promised crackdown begins, he said.
— Atchaa Khamlo & Stephen Fein
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