Thailand can strengthen its migration policies and systems to support sustained, innovation-driven growth, under its Thailand 4.0 strategy, experts concluded at a presentation of the recent World Bank report, Migrating to Opportunity: Overcoming Barriers to Labor Mobility in Southeast Asia today in Bangkok.
Jointly organized by the Ministry of Labor and the World Bank, and bringing together representatives from government, the private sector, development partners, think tanks, and civil society, the conference focused on the report’s lessons for Thailand. Thailand, Malaysia and Singapore combined are home to 6.5 million ASEAN migrants, or 96 percent of all migrants in ASEAN, and Thailand alone accounts for more than half of all ASEAN migrants. About half of Thailand’s migrants are from Myanmar and most of the rest hail from Lao PDR and Cambodia.
“Labor mobility in ASEAN brings benefits to the citizens of both receiving and sending countries. However, a migration system requires collaboration between not only sending and receiving countries but also stakeholders in order to bring about the greatest gains from labor migration,” said H.E. Police General Adul Sangsingkeo, Minister of Labor.
Migrants contribute significantly to Thailand’s economic development, according to the report. They fill critical skills gaps in sectors and occupations where local Thai workers are not always available. Conference participants noted that effective migration systems can play a critical role in knowledge-based economies, by attracting highly productive, formally employed workers. They can also help improve transparency and predictability, incorporate feedback from employers and other stakeholders, and adjust policies rapidly according to changes in the labor market.
“The World Bank supports reforms that ensure consistency of migration policies and systems with Thailand’s economic needs, Efforts in Thailand to align migration policies and systems with its strategic transformation into a modern, high-knowledge, innovative economy are highly welcome,” said Ulrich Zachau, World Bank Director for Thailand. “Strong, streamlined labor policies and systems to facilitate migration commensurate with labor needs, the increased use of data by decision makers, and lower costs for would-be migrant workers will be key to realizing the vision of Thailand 4.0.”
Recommendations discussed by conference participants include:
- Development of a national migration strategy that clarifies the objectives of immigration policy, particularly pertaining to Thailand 4.0 and the roles and responsibilities across agencies, and synchronizes migration policy with other strategies related to human resources;
- Alignment of migration flows with economic needs, to ensure that overly restrictive quotas or levies do not constrain the positive impact of immigrant labor on economic development. Any existing quotas or levies need to be updated regularly, clearly communicated, and consistently enforced.
- Simplification of administrative procedures related to admission and regularization to help reduce costs and bring more migrants out of the informal system. A database of potential foreign job seekers and local job vacancies between Thailand and its main sending countries will also help.
- Improvement of oversight of recruitment agencies on whom many migrant workers rely heavily as they navigate complex bureaucratic procedures. This will help reduce the costs incurred by migrants following formal procedures.
- Leveraging of the experience of current migrants and enhancement of their skills, by creating employment passes of longer duration to reward workers who are gaining and enhancing their skills set. Training and accreditation programs can also be used to incentivize migrants to maintain regular status.