Thailand short of 500,000 foreign workers as most curbs end

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People sit at a bar overlooking Wat Arun, a Buddhist temple, in Bangkok on March 17.
Photo: AFP

Thailand short of 500,000 foreign workers as most curbs end

Thailand faces a shortage of about 500,000 foreign workers in its manufacturing and services sectors to support an economic recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic, with the government having lifted almost all virus-related travel and business restrictions

A combination of factors including civil strife in Myanmar and virus outbreaks in neighboring countries has led to fewer-than-expected people seeking work in Thailand.

Meanwhile, demand for staff is growing, especially in tourism-related sectors as well as labor-intensive industries like construction and fisheries, where Thais reject jobs because of low pay and difficult work conditions.

“This is a serious problem, as Thailand needs these foreign workers to help drive the economy,” said Poj Aramwattananont, vice chairman of the Thai Chamber of Commerce. “We will need more workers going forward, because we have lots of major infrastructure projects. We also have many services-sector jobs that need to be filled.”

Southeast Asia’s second-largest economy is on a recovery path after enduring its steepest contraction in more than two decades in 2020. More than 300,000 foreign workers were estimated to have left Thailand since the pandemic started, with only about 20,000 having returned this year under the bilateral contracts between Thailand and some peers in ASEAN.

About 2.5 million foreign workers are estimated to live in Thailand, Department of Employment Director-General Piroj Chotikasatien said.

The government recently changed rules to enable people with Laos, Myanmar, Vietnam and Cambodia nationalities who are working illegally in Thailand to register and gain a pathway into the formal system.

It also extended the expiring work permits for about 1.7 million people through 2025.

As many as 500 people from neighboring countries are crossing borders every day to seek work in Thailand.

That number would soon increase to 2,000 per day, the Department of Employment has said.