Due to Thailand’s economic growth in recent decades, the country has become heavily dependent on low-skilled foreign workers, and it has long been a trend for citizens from neighboring countries such as Cambodia, Lao People’s Democratic Republic and Myanmar to move to Thailand for work. As a result, 63 per cent of Myanmar’s overall migrant population lives in neighboring Thailand, and Myanmar migrants constitute the largest proportion (about 80%) of migrants in Thailand. Although migration from Myanmar to Thailand has a long-standing history, migrants still face a number of challenges. Due to the nature of the jobs sought (mainly low-skilled), the lack of proper legal statuses, as well as a lack of social networks and support systems in country, migrants are often exposed to greater risks and vulnerabilities than local populations.
Both governments have put in place legal initiatives to regularize migration, but the process has been long, cumbersome and often disputed.
In order to gain a better understanding of the migration patterns and the nature of flows from Myanmar to Thailand – with a particular focus on any possible vulnerabilities – IOM Thailand’s Migrant Assistance and Counter-Trafficking Unit initiated a survey exercise in May 2018 in the province of Tak, using one of the IOM Displacement Tracking Matrix (DTM) tools – the so-called Flow Monitoring component. Flow Monitoring is a tool designed to track movement flows, and the overall situation at key points of origin, transit and destination; it is an optimal tool to provide a more detailed understanding of the migration situation at the Thai-Myanmar border. With special consideration to the experience of migrant workers, IOM Thailand aimed to find out more about migrants’ profiles, drivers of migration, level of preparedness for migration, as well as associated vulnerabilities and return intentions.
From mid-June until mid-August 2018, a total of 4,284 Myanmar nationals were surveyed in the province of Tak, of whom 3,765 were identified as migrant workers. The 3,765 migrant workers fell into two different migrant groups. The first group was comprised of incoming migrants, arriving in Thailand prior to starting employment and the second group of outgoing migrants, returning after their employment ended. Two different survey tools were designed to capture the most accurate information possible for both target groups. The findings help to identify migration patterns as well as common challenges and vulnerabilities and can be used to better direct policy and programming for the protection and assistance of migrant workers.
Since many of the respondents had worked in Thailand before, the main findings of the report show that the information and expectations that incoming migrants have is overall not too different from the experiences and impressions that outgoing migrants have when returning from Thailand. Looking at key findings for each thematic area, the data shows that the majority of respondents were married men between the ages of 16 and 30 years, originating mainly from Kayin State, Mon State and the Bago region. While the average duration of stay is the same for both samples, namely over one year, the education level for returning migrants was slightly higher. Migrants coming through Mae Sot tend to scatter all over Thailand after their arrival, travelling especially to Bangkok, Phuket and Chon Buri. On the other hand, Myanmar nationals entering Thailand in Phop Phra tend to stay in Tak province.
Prior to migration most migrants reported relying on self-employment or daily wage employment conditions, and almost one quarter did not have any form of employment. The largest share of both samples chose to go to Thailand for employment reasons. The majority of both migrant groups had previously worked in Thailand, however incoming migrants were more likely to have done so. Thailand was predominately chosen as a destination country because of the ease of access, as well as the accessibility of jobs. For both sample populations, the largest share had already secured a job before arriving in Thailand.
Nevertheless, incoming migrants were more likely to already have a job lined up, which could be explained by data showing that a larger share of incoming migrants reported to have obtained their job by knowing the employer. This aligns with the fact that a greater proportion of incoming migrants also had previous work experience in Thailand. Overall, the three main employment sectors for respondents were manufacturing, construction and the service industry (in hotels, restaurants and food preparation). Returning migrants reported having spent on average three times more for their journeys than incoming migrants. Possible reasons could be that incoming migrants have yet to reach their destination and may be required to pay more further along. The most commonly reported sources for financing migration were savings and general income/wages. However, returning migrants seemed to rely more heavily on borrowing money from a variety of different actors. With regard to support for migration preparations and arrangements, incoming migrants relied mainly on family or friends in Thailand, whereas returning migrants commonly made use of unlicensed brokers or agents. One determining factor for this appears to be the migrant’s legal status in Thailand. A large share of return respondents also did not possess any form of documentation, making the use of unlicensed brokers more likely.
Surprisingly, Thai language skills in speaking and comprehension were twice as high in the sample of incoming migrants than in the sample of returning migrants. This could potentially be explained by the high share of incoming migrants that had previously lived in Thailand. Both sample groups report poor levels of Thai language reading ability. Migrants travelling through Phop Phra who intend to stay in Tak province were more likely to not have any form of documentation. Of those migrants entering Thailand under the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) almost one quarter had never seen their employment contract.
Of those who had seen it, the majority also reported having signed the contract themselves. On average, the expected daily wage for incoming migrants and the actual wages received by returning migrants fell above the median minimum wage of THB 318. Women, however, were less likely to earn more than the median minimum wage. Problems reported during the journey were relatively low for both samples, with those that did face problems mainly reported misinformation as well as psychological stress. With regard to problems in the workplace, it seems that incoming migrants could underestimate the potential for problems, as a larger share of returning migrants reported facing problems than incoming migrants reporting expecting them.
Common problems are related to wages and payments, as well as long hours and psychological stress.
The data did not reveal any key determining factor for returning home but rather a variety of factors – the end of a work permit/visa; deportation; not having proper documentation; and visiting family/friends were the most common reasons given. The majority of returning respondents did not expect to face any challenges upon return. The share of those that intended to migrate again and those that did not wish to do so is relatively evenly distributed. Two determinants to migrating again seem to be age as well as the length of stay in Thailand. Migrants aged between 21 and 30 years reported being more likely to migrate again, as well as those respondents that had lived in Thailand for over a year. In general, migrants seemed to have accumulated more savings through migration, and had also improved their overall financial situation.
- International Organization for Migration
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