On 14 August 2022, the Mekong Migrant Network (MMN) and MAP Foundation (MAP) jointly convened the third in our series of consultations on the issue of migrants’ access to Social Security in Thailand. The daylong event took place in the border town of Mae Sot and provided a forum for migrant workers to share experiences, meet representatives of the Social Security Office, and directly advocate for a more migrant-friendly Social Security System. Thirty migrant workers from Myanmar (18 female and 12 male) attended the event, representing a broad range of employment sectors, including domestic work, manufacturing, and agriculture. Participants were invited from various sectors in order to reflect a diversity of perspectives and ensure that migrants employed in domestic work and agriculture who are currently ineligible to join the Social Security System also have their voices heard.


During the morning session, migrant participants brainstormed their understanding and experiences of the Thai Social Security System. Some participants said that they saw it as akin to a giant piggy bank whereby employers, employees, and the government can pool funds so that medical treatment and other benefits to cover maternity and unemployment, can be paid to individuals when needed. The initial discussion also revealed that most migrant participants had never received information about the Social Security System directly from the Thai government and that the Myanmar Embassy does not provide information or assistance on such matters.

Relating to their experiences of attending the Social Security Office, migrants said that the language barrier made it difficult to communicate with officers. They also remarked that frequent changes in its location proved problematic. They said that paying Social Security contributions were easy, but claiming benefits was difficult due to a lack of coordination between the Social Security Office and the Department of Employment, which led to confusion and duplicate filings. Some migrant participants also mentioned that documentation issues create hurdles when claiming child allowance. In general, participants felt that many such problems stemmed from a lack of equality in terms of how Thai and Myanmar nationals are treated by the Social Security Office. For example, they said that Thai nationals could make benefit claims online, while Myanmar nationals must visit the office in person, which results in migrants wasting valuable time and money.

Small Group Discussion

Following the brainstorming session, migrant participants were divided into three small groups according to their Social Security status, or lack thereof. Each group focused on the particular challenges they faced as a way of formulating recommendations to submit to representatives of the Social Security Officer during the afternoon session.

The first group, consisting of migrants currently enrolled in the Social Security System, focused on employer-related issues, among others. Members of the group observed that migrants are often left in the dark by their employers on Social Security matters. One participant in the group remarked that:

“Employers don’t provide us with clear information. They give detailed information only to Thai workers and none or very unclear information to workers from Myanmar.”

Members of the group were also unhappy that Social Security contributions are deducted directly from daily wages and felt that the policy requiring migrants to secure new employment within 15 days of leaving a job was unfair since it resulted in the loss of benefits. The group then discussed the problems encountered by migrant retirees over 55 years of age who wish to withdraw their lump sum before returning to their country of origin. In their experience, many migrants do not receive their money as they are unable to provide all necessary evidence, as documents are either in Myanmar or have been lost over the years. The group recommended that migrants’ Social Security records should be stored on a centralised database for easy retrieval.

The second group consisted of migrants no longer enrolled in the Social Security System. Their discussion focused on the difficulties encountered when attempting to re-enrol having found new employment, and issues encountered when leaving Thailand. One migrant in the group remarked that:

“Social Security officials and employers do not explain the steps that need to be taken to re-enrol… Employers often fail to notify [the Social Security Office] when we leave. This creates complications for us when registering under a new employer”.

Participants in the group also complained that it is unfair that migrants are unable to receive a lump sum Social Security payment when leaving Thailand unless they reach retirement age. They said, many migrants need to return to Myanmar before they reach 55 years of age but end up losing the Social Security contributions made over the years. This is an aspect of the system they wish to see reform.

The third small group, comprising migrants never before enrolled in the Social Security System, discussed some of the problems in attempting to do so, including difficulties created by employers who did not want them to join. First, they agreed that more should be done by both employers and the Social Security Office to disseminate accurate information to migrant workers regarding the enrolment process. Second, they said that it was difficult to obtain accurate information on their own, as the Social Security Office’s website was only available in Thai and English. Third, they complained that many employers did not enrol migrant workers. As one member of the group explained:

“Employers do not want their migrant employees to enrol in the Social Security System because they do not want to pay employer contributions. They also tend to think that migrant workers will soon leave their employment so it’s not worth enrolling them.”

Finally, migrants in the group said that one of the main reasons why they do not enrol on their own is because they cannot afford to pay contributions when they have no fixed income. For example, pieceworkers employed in garment manufacturing are obliged to make the same monthly contributions, even when the number of pieces produced is small and their income low. They recommended reforming current policy to bring more migrant workers from informal sectors into the Social Security System.

Dialogue with the Social Security Office

The afternoon session began with nominated migrant workers presenting the above-mentioned challenges and recommendations to Ms. Panyaporn Wongchaya, Head of the Social Security Office in Mae Sot District, and Ms. Thantip Baotham of the Workers’ Compensation Fund Department. Addressing migrants’ concerns regarding the lack of information given by employers, Ms. Wongchaya said that:

“Employers should have a thorough understanding of the Social Security System before they provide information to their employees.”

 She then elaborated on Social Security enrolment, including the process to be followed in five distinct situations, namely where: (1) Migrants hold a passport and work permit; (2) Migrants hold a Certificate of Identity and Pink Card; (3) Displaced persons hold a work permit; (4) Migrants are without any registration status or work permit; and (5) Migrants have temporarily travelled abroad. Ms. Wongchaya then detailed eligibility and documents required to claim various Social Security benefits, including for sickness, maternity, disability, death, and unemployment. Her colleague, Ms. Baotham, added that:

“Many migrant workers lose benefits that they are entitled to because they are confused about the documentation required to claim them and the workings of the Social Security System.”

Closing and Key Takeaways

The migrant consultation concluded with the agreement that more needs to be done to improve migrant workers’ access to the Social Security System. The consultation revealed that migrants continue to face a multitude of challenges in accessing Social Security and that progress is hampered by insufficient information from government agencies and employers. In this respect, the consultation provided a rare opportunity for migrants to obtain information directly from representatives of the Social Security Office.

Migrant participants brainstormed their understanding and experiences of the Thai Social Security System

Small group discussion

Dialogue with the representatives from Mae Sot Social Security Office

Participants at Migrant Consultation on Access to Social Security, Mae Sot