Migrant rights group claims exploitation by Thai visa brokers
A MIGRANT workers rights group is lobbying the Myanmar embassy in Thailand to allow workers to directly apply for their visas. The rights group claims the current visa system depends on brokers who exploit the workers.
Ko Aung Aung, a Myanmar migrant worker in Bangkok, said brokers open up application counters in front of the official passport counters, requiring a 300 baht (US$8.45) payment for processing.
“We cannot apply on our own,” he said. “The embassy will not accept our application if we did not go to the broker’s counter first. The broker says the counter is there to help us and to provide services to make it easier while we apply for the passport, but there is no difference in the process. Either way, we have to wait for a long time to get the passport.”
U Sein Htay, chair of the Migrant Workers Rights Network (MWRN), said migrant workers have become victims of brokers, contractors and embassy officials.
“We want [the workers to be able] to apply for passports without the help of brokers,” he said. “We also want to raise awareness about the process and the situation at the embassy. We demand that the state counsellor supervise the conditions at the embassy.”
Workers are being required to pay more than the officially fixed price to apply for visas, according to an MWRN statement released last week. The same is true of reapplications, the statement said.
While the fixed price is supposed to be 1530 baht, workers are being forced to pay brokers a 300 baht application fee and an additional 1600 or 1700 baht for the visa itself, the statement claims.
The Myanmar Times reached out to Myanmar ambassador to Thailand, U Win Maung, several times for comment on the MWRN statement, but phone calls were not returned.
The Ministry of Labour, Immigration and Population’s Migrant Affairs Department director U Thein Win said he was not entirely aware of the conditions at the embassy in Bangkok. It might be that the ambassador is doing what is necessary in order to allow the process to work, he said.
“It may be that the process was taking too long and so they looked into the issues and decided to take actions that might smooth the process out,” he said.
The Labour Ministry has been planning to issue migrant workers in Thailand with identification certificates before the end of the month, he said. Successful implementation of that project is key and if carried out properly should put an end to exploitative brokers, he added.
The process has been in the planning and negotiation stages for over a year without coming to fruition, however, forcing workers to seek alternative arrangement to obtain legal documents.
As many as 3 million migrant workers are thought to be living in Thailand, many of them illegally.