About 60,000 workers left between June 23 and 28, and the number had risen since, said a Bangkok immigration spokesman, although the number can only be an estimate as many illegal immigrants will use Thailand’s porous forest borders.
“They were of all nationalities, but the biggest group was from Myanmar,” Deputy Commissioner Pornchai Kuntee told Reuters. “They are probably very scared.”
The military’s decree includes fines of up to 800,000 baht (US$23,560) for firms who hire unregistered foreigners without permits.
The authorities U-turned after the initial rush for the borders and talks with Myanmar’s government, introducing a 120-day delay in enforcing the new regulations.
During that period there would be no arrests on illegal workers, except “for those who violate human trafficking laws”, Pornchai said.
Military-appointed Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha invoked the order to suspend parts of the law that took effect June 23. Prayuth’s order sets a deadline of New Year’s Day 2018 for registration.
At least 30,000 workers from Myanmar, Cambodia and Laos returned home, fearing they could be jailed for five years. Many may have been thrown out by Thai employers, who fear paying the heavy fines.
The junta appeared to be most concerned about firms’ complaints that their businesses were being affected.
There are an estimated 2.6 million foreign workers in Thailand, with half believed to be unregistered. They form the backbone of the Thai economy.
Prayuth said: “If we just leave it then it will be bad for the economy, so we have to work together. Don’t believe it when they say the government is causing problems for workers.”
Deputy Prime Minister Wissanu Krea-ngam said the law’s implementation had been delayed to allow time for foreigners to register properly, which took around two months.
“Setting a timeframe of six months allows workers to shuffle shifts and prevents issues where there is a lack of workers,” the deputy prime minister said.
Wissanu said the order could also increase the maximum fine for firms with unregistered foreigners to 1 million baht from 800,000 baht.
The junta’s order also contains threats to corrupt civil servants who try to extract bribes from migrants and their employers.
The Thai-Myanmar Friendship Bridge linking Mae Sot in Thailand and Myawaddy. Picture credit: Wikimedia