Press release: Migrant Workers Should Be Allowed To Renew Their Work Permits Without Having To Return Home

Mekong Migration Network Press release on issues concerning 4 year work permits, 10 February 2014

Migrant Workers Should Be Allowed To Renew Their Work Permits Without Having To Return Home

The Mekong Migration Network (MMN), a sub-regional network of civil society organizations, research institutes and mass organizations promoting rights of all migrant workers and their families, urges the Royal Government of Thailand to immediately review its policy that requires migrant workers to return to their countries of origin before being allowed to renew their work permits after having worked in Thailand for 4 years.

The Memoranda of Understanding (MOUs) on Cooperation on Employment of the Workers which Thailand bilaterally signed with its neighbouring countries Lao PDR, Cambodia and Myanmar in 2002 and 2003, state that employment in Thailand shall be deemed completed after 4 years and that a 3 year break is required for workers to be able to apply for a new work permit. In 2013, the Royal Government of Thailand suggested to shorten this requirement from a 3 year to 1 month. However, such amendment was never officially announced and due to the current political situation in Thailand, no further discussions are being held, leaving migrant workers with expired permits in limbo.

Since these MOUs were signed, MMN has expressed its concern over this requirement on a number of occasions. Requiring migrant workers to leave Thailand for an extended period of time encourages migrants to remain in Thailand and become undocumented, particularly if the costs and complications of recommencing the registration process are too high. This undermines the purpose of the regularization process in Thailand.  It also increases the risk of exploitation and extortion by traffickers offering opportunities in third countries or by brokers preparing false documents for migrant workers, thereby also undermining the identification system in Thailand and migrants’ countries of origin.

Migrant workers are particularly concerned about family separation and the costs of returning to their home countries and subsequently re-commencing the registration process. Reducing the period of return to a migrant worker’s country of origin from 3 years to a shorter period such as 1 month, does not solve these problems. It will also leave employers in a problematic situation if their employees are required to leave the workplace for a period of several weeks; and it means that workers forfeit social security access and any accrued benefits.

Thus, MMN recommends that migrant workers should be able to renew their work permits every two years for as long as they have employment, without being required to return to their country of origin to do so.  The benefits of allowing migrant workers to continue their employment in Thailand concern not only migrant families and communities, but also employers and the Thai economy which continues to rely heavily on migrant labour. Expected benefits include the following:

–          Allowing employers to maintain a consistent workforce and retain more experienced and skilled workers;

–          Ensuring that the Thai economy will not fluctuate with sudden labour shortages;

–          Enhancing the integration of workers who have already spent several years in Thailand and are accustomed to the Thai culture and way of life;

–          Avoiding disruption to families and ensuring migrant children in school can continue their schooling;

–          Enabling better promotion of public health programs amongst migrant workers who have been in the community for a longer period;

–          Allowing migrant communities to benefit from the experiences of migrant advocates and volunteers who have been in the community for a longer period.

The MMN thus recommends that the Royal Government of Thailand take the following actions:

1. Lift the 4-year time limit restrictions, abolish requirement of a 3 year break, and allow migrant workers to extend their work permits without having to return back to their countries of origin. Especially if migrants are required to acquire a full passport in place of a temporary passport, they must be assured that they will be able to work for as long as their work is available and that there will be no time limit restrictions imposed on them.

2. Adopt all administrative and legal measures to simplify the procedures for extending the visa and work permit, as to make the processes readily accessible to all migrant workers. Simplifying the process will also drastically reduce the costs of regularization.

The MMN also recommends that the countries of origin take the following actions:

3. Work with the Royal Government of Thailand to make sure that any measures taken by the Royal Government of Thailand will not affect the rights of migrant workers;

4. Continue discussions with the Royal Government of Thailand on the possibility of allowing migrant workers to extend their work permits beyond 4 years.

5. Provide more consular service to help migrant workers renew their work permits.


For more information, please contact:

Reiko Harima (+852) 93692244,; or

Omsin Boonlert (Thailand) (+66) (0)869238313,; or

Po Po (Myanmar): (+95) (0)9-254-111-394,

Sokchar Mom (Cambodia): (+855) (0)12-943767,