Cablegate: Thai Government Extends Migrant Worker Nationality

DE RUEHBK #0176/01 0211020
P 211020Z JAN 10


Department for EAP/MLS DSmith, DRL/IL MJunk, GTIP CChan-Downer, and
DOL/ILAB for Brandie Sasser


E.O. 12958: N/A

BANGKOK 00000176 001.2 OF 002

Sensitive But Unclassified. For Official Use Only.

Refs: a) 09 Bangkok 2821 (Government Responds to Criticisms)
b) 09 Bangkok 1376 (Thai Government Plans Migrant Amnesty)

1. (SBU) Summary: On January 19, the Thai government extended for
two-years to February 28, 2012, the deadline for migrant workers
from Burma, Laos, and Cambodia to complete the nationality
verification (NV) process associated with Thailand's illegal migrant
worker amnesty program. The decision effectively extends the work
permits of all migrant workers in Thailand, making it clear that
migrants who participate in the NV process will not be subject to
deportation next month, and allowing them to potentially remain in
country for up to six years. Migrants who do not submit an
application to begin the NV process by February 28, 2010, will be
subject to immediate deportation. Observers widely anticipated (and
hoped for) the extension since only approximately 10,000 of the over
one million registered Burmese migrant workers in Thailand have
completed the NV process. Labor activists welcomed the Thai
government's flexibility in extending the NV deadline and continue
to blame the Burmese government for the underlying flaws in the
process. They also plan to keep pressing Thai authorities for
improvements to public education of migrants on the process and in
the regulation of brokers and their fees. End Summary.

2. (SBU) Comment: The comprehensive nature of the Thai government's
January 19 decision, touching on many areas of concern brought to
its attention by interested outside parties, illustrates an
increasingly inclusive, albeit sometimes contentious, policy-making
process on the migrant worker issue. It is unclear whether the
cabinet's decision to reengage the Burmese government on the
nationality verification process will amount to much real activity
in this area. No one with whom we have spoken since the amnesty was
first announced in early 2009 believes the Burmese government will
agree to change the process. More likely, the tasking to the
Foreign Ministry is aimed to flag for critics Burmese responsibility
for the flawed NV process, which forces Thailand to feel the heat
and make adjustments. End Comment.

3. (SBU) In a January 19 decision welcomed by observers, the Royal
Thai Government (RTG) cabinet approved a two-year extension of the
deadline by which migrant workers from Burma (as well as Laos and
Cambodia) must complete their nationality verification (NV), as
required under Thailand's illegal migrant worker amnesty program
(see ref a for details on the amnesty program). Migrants now have
until February 28, 2012, to complete the nationality verification
process. They will not face deportation if they submit an NV
application to the Thai Ministry of Labor by the original deadline
of February 28, 2010. Workers who do not submit an application for
nationality verification by February 28, 2010, will be subject to
immediate deportation.

4. (U) Work permits for all migrants who enter the nationality
verification program (regardless of when they were obtained) will be
extended on a year by year basis, until the workers' nationality
verification is complete (but not beyond February 28, 2012). Once
completed, migrant workers can apply for another work permit (of up
to two years in validity) that can be extended for an additional two
years (Note: In theory, should a migrant finish the NV process in
January 2012, he/she could remain legally in Thailand for a total of
approximately six years from this month).

5. (SBU) Through its January 19 decision, the RTG cabinet tasked
individual ministries with actions that are required to make the
decision operational. Some actions, like the issuance of relevant
regulations by the Ministry of Interior, are expected within days.
Others will take longer: the cabinet determined that the Ministry of
Foreign Affairs should engage with Burmese Government (GOB)
authorities to press the GOB to move faster on its decisions
regarding individuals claiming Burmese nationality and to convince
the GOB to allow for the processing of claims to Burmese citizenship
within Thailand, such as is done with Laos and Cambodia (refs a and

6. (SBU) Additional aspects of the Thai government's January 19
decision aim to improve the administration of the amnesty program
(and NV process) in line with the recommendations of civil society
critics. The Ministry of Labor was tasked to conduct awareness
raising efforts on the nationality verification process, both for
migrant workers and employers. To control the cost of participating
in the NV process, migrants are exempted from paying fees for
services provided by the Ministries of Labor and Public Health for
an overlapping time period (e.g., if a migrant renews a work permit
prior to its expiration date, the fee covering the overlapping
period is waved. The same is true with regard to required annual
health checks and health insurance). In an update to wording from a

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May 2009 cabinet resolution regarding the limitations on migrant
workers' ability to change employers, the January 19 decision states
that migrants may do so if the employer breaches the rights of the
worker or does not act in accordance with labor protection laws.

7. (SBU) Additionally, the cabinet called on the National Security
Council to develop a plan to handle the cases of those migrant
workers whose nationality is not successfully verified by the
government whose citizenship they claim (Note: this likely is meant
for the cases of workers from certain ethnic minorities within
Burma, such as Karen and Karenni. Should the GOB not verify their
nationality, the RTG would need to determine how to handle their
cases. End Note.).

Why the Extension?
8. (SBU) The Thai government's pragmatic decision to extend the NV
process deadline was made out of necessity. According to data
compiled by the International Organization for Migration (IOM), the
RTG issued or extended 1,325,057 work permits for migrant workers
between January and November 2009, 1,077,981 of which were for
persons from Burma. At the same time, fewer than 10,000 Burmese
migrant workers have successfully completed the nationality
verification process. While the Thai government has not released
the number of Burmese migrants who have begun -- but not yet
completed -- the NV process, it determined that more time was needed
for them to do so. Recognizing this fact, the Ministry of Labor-led
Illegal Migrant Administration Committee recommended in December
2009 that the NV process deadline be extended. Labor Minister
Paitoon Kaewthong brought this recommendation to the Thai cabinet,
which concurred.

Welcome News, But System Still Flawed
9. (SBU) A representative from the Thailand-based non-governmental
organization Migrant Justice Program (MJP) told Econoff January 19
that the news of the cabinet decision was welcome and that the Thai
Government appears to be doing its best to be responsive to civil
society complaints about the NV process. He believes the decision
validates NGO efforts to seek modifications to the process, through
a campaign of media placements and letters to senior Thai government
officials. At the same time, he was quick to point out continuing
concerns with the "failed system." Noting the fear many Burmese
migrants have of any dealing with the Burmese government, the
activist explained that many will choose not to participate in the
NV process. They may also, with or without the knowledge of their
employer, provide false information on related forms in order to buy
time and remain in Thailand even though doing so would ultimately
likely lead to their eventual deportation.

10. (SBU) The activist also stated that although the Thai
government published an over seventy-page manual on the NV process,
including in Burmese, it is too long for migrants to easily
understand and too difficult to disseminate (unlike the Thai
governments development of basic leaflets on the worker amnesty
program as a whole). He therefore plans to continue pressing Thai
authorities on this and other areas, such as controlling fees
charged by labor brokers assisting migrants and employers in the

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