are in the MOST Phase I website (1994-2003).
The MOST Phase II website is available at: www.unesco.org/shs/most.
Transnational migration is an old and well-known phenomenon in Thailand. For many centuries, the country has witnessed foreigners coming to stay on Thai soil and native people leaving for other lands. Mostly, immigration to Thailand was more evident than emigration. Among the immigrant groups, the Chinese traders and labourers who arrived in the 18th and 19th centuries were the largest group. From the Bangkok Census in 1909, it was reported that 162,505 Chinese migrants settled in the capital. Other nationals such as Indians, Westerners, Japanese and people from neighbouring countries also came to Thailand for various reasons. The Indian merchants came here to trade and to spread Buddhist teachings. The Westerners came to trade and to teach Christianity. Thailand’s neighbours, i.e., the Khmer, Lao, Vietnamese, Cham, Mon, Burmese, Karen, Shan and other small ethnic groups immigrated to Thailand because of trade, fighting, escaping from either natural disasters or those caused by humans, and the sharing of some religious traditions and culture. At that time, there was no border line to demarcate the territory of each state, so movements around the border areas were natural and free.
The emigration of Thai people to other lands has been a more recent phenomenon. Historically, Thais were not great travellers. People were not adventurous and there were no pressures driving people to move out. Natural resources were rich and the country was not densely populated. As a result, the country needed more labourers for production. Thus, foreign workers were welcomed to immigrate.
It was not until the early 20th century that Thailand started to be aware of the influx of immigrants. In 1907, King Rama V issued an Act on the Qualities of Immigrants limiting the annual number of immigrants (mainly Chinese) allowed to enter Thailand. Later, the limited number decreased dramatically from 10,000 to 200 immigrants per year. Along with this restriction, the Thai court also aroused the patriotic feelings of the Thais against the Chinese, naming the latter as ‘The Jews of the East’. Throughout the 20th century, immigration to Thailand has been restricted. The Immigration Acts of 1927 and 1979 only permitted professional transients to enter without quotas and restricted other types of immigrants due to economic and national security. The second half of the 20th century witnessed immigration from neighbouring countries, especially from Indochina and Burma.
As for emigration, significant movements of Thai nationals out of the country started during the 1970s. Most of the migrants were professionals who sought employment in the United States. Later, in the 1980s, a massive outflow of Thai migrants went to the Gulf region for employment during the oil boom. In the 1990s, the trend of movement changed to the newly industrialised countries in Asia.
B. Current Situation of Transnational Migration in Thailand
In 1994, the transnational population in Thailand consisted of tourists, migrant workers, trafficked persons, and asylum seekers and refugees. The details of each category (also see Table 1) are:
ii) Thai tourists to foreign countries. There are no official statistics of Thai tourists annually. Of the 2 million Thais going abroad annually, an estimated half are tourists.
(2) Documented Migrant Workers
ii) Guest workers in Thailand. In 1993, 22,101 guest workers were permitted to work in Thailand.
(3) Undocumented Migrant Workers
ii) Foreign migrant workers. The Thai Immigration Office estimated that 525,480 illegal migrant workers were in Thailand in 1994.
(4) Trafficked Persons
ii) Foreign traffic in Thailand. No official estimates. Accumulated statistics of women and children being trafficked from China, Burma, Laos, Vietnam and Cambodia amounted to around 30,000 in 1993.
(5) Asylum Seekers and Refugees
C. Profiles and Problems of Emigration from Thailand
The development of Thai emigration can be divided into 3 periods (see Table 2). During Period One (1975–1981), migrants had many choices because there was a big need for labour in many countries. The salaries were high and employment recruitment was professional and fair. These were the ‘golden days’ of emigration. During Period Two (1982–1987), the majority of Thai migrants went to the Gulf Region. However, when overseas employment was at its peak, exploitation of emigrants started. Employment syndicates and ‘middlemen’ cheated poor people who looked for jobs abroad by charging them a high fee for job recruitment and sometimes failed to provide the promised employment. Some did travel but found bad jobs with low pay. Most of the workers, legal or illegal, were not fully protected by the labour law.
Period Three started after 1987. The new trend of labour migration has been in Asian newly industrialised countries. The major receiving countries were Taiwan, Brunei, Hong Kong, Singapore, and Japan (see Table 2). This new trend is called Asianisation. The number of Thai workers going to Southeast Asian and East Asian countries became higher than those going to the gulf region. In 1993, figures for migrants checked by the Ministry of Labour show that 118,600 Thais went to Asia while the rest (14,623 persons) went to other destinations. However, the estimated numbers of Thai labourers abroad (as reported by the Ministry of Labour) are much higher. In total, the Thai government estimated that 370,500 Thais worked abroad during 1993. Among these, 33,000 went to the Middle East and 221,000 went to Asian countries (see Table 3).
Feminisation is another important trend of emigration. It was found that in Hong Kong, South Korea, Japan, Germany and England, the number of female migrants exceeded the number of male migrants during 1990–1993, not including undocumented migrants (see Table 4). The number of female migrants is related to the demand for female domestic helpers and female workers in the entertainment and commercial sex industries, a trend which has very negative consequences for the female entertainment workers. The demand is increasing, resulting in the trafficking and inducement of young girls from ethnic minorities into prostitution.
The outflow of Thai and other Southeast Asian migrant workers has resulted in stricter immigration policies in most receiving countries. Governments implemented restrictive immigration measures wherein immigration was limited or closed, overstayers were arrested, and illegal migrants were punished, fined, imprisoned and deported. Yet, the wave of Thai undocumented migrants to countries which are centres of economic internationalisation offering high salaries continues. Based on figures showing the numbers of undocumented Thai migrants arrested in major receiving countries, there are probably more than 100,000 illegal Thai workers abroad (see Table 5). Undocumented migration becomes another feature of Thai emigration.
Migrant workers usually send remittances to Thailand. The countries of origin for such remittances are the Middle East, Southeast Asia (Brunei, Indonesia, Singapore, Peninsular Malaysia), Japan, Europe (France, Italy and Germany) and the United States (see Table 6). Remittances from the Middle East were the highest in 1985; but in 1990, the highest remittances were from the US. Remittances from Japan are also high. After 1990, remittances dropped dramatically. In total, Thailand received 24,906.8 million baht or almost US$1,000 million in remittances during 1990. In 1994, remittances were 33,130 million baht (US$1,325 million).
During the initial period when Thai migrant labour outflows were increasing, the government, expecting increased remittances, did not do much to prevent Thai labourers from being exploited by employment syndicates. It promoted a policy of free labour export. A worker usually paid US$3,000 - $US10,000 to a syndicate and there was no guarantee that they would be employed. Unemployed workers also needed assistance and support from Thai embassies to return to Thailand. At present, Thailand has labour attaches working at the Thai Embassies in Hong Kong, Singapore, Brunei, Japan, etc. There is debate about whether the Ministry of Labour should run all the employment recruitment syndicates or just supervise their operation loosely as they are doing now (Siam Post, January 1996).
D. Immigration to Thailand
Apart from tourists, the number of foreigners coming to Thailand for long stays has always been low, not exceeding 5,000 persons per year during 1979–1984. Most of these immigrants were professional transients who came to work according to the Investment Promotion Act of 1977. Most of them were from Japan, China and the US. However, since 1985, the number of contract workers in Thailand increased from 6,229 persons in 1985 to 9,577 persons in 1990 and 22,101 in 1993 (see Table 6). The increase is due to the growing number of illegal immigrants who come to work in Thailand. Some of these immigrants (17,445 during 1993) were arrested, guaranteed by some employers who deposited money with the Thai authorities, then released for temporary work before being deported.
Illegal immigrants are the biggest group of migrants to Thailand. The recent economic prosperity in the country has brought about income disparities between Thai nationals and nationals of neighbouring countries whose economic development has advanced at a slower speed. This has resulted in an influx of migrant workers, especially from Burma, Laos, Cambodia, China and Bangladesh. While a significant amount of Thai labourers left for overseas employment, those who stayed preferred not to do the dangerous, difficult and dirty jobs. Thus, foreign workers accepted the jobs that Thai nationals did not want, especially in fisheries, construction work and farming. Some female migrants were employed in industrial and service sectors. They worked in factories, as domestic workers and in the entertainment business.
The Thai Immigration Office estimated that there were approximately 525,480 illegal immigrants in Thailand in 1994 (see Table 7). Of this number, the biggest group came from Burma (334,124), followed by China (100,000) and South Asian Countries (81,357). The smallest group was from Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam. Actually, it is very difficult to distinguish a Lao from a Northeast Thai because their language, appearance and cultural practices are similar. The real number of Lao immigrants may be higher but they are not detected.
The demand for workers in the local and overseas sex industries has affected the trafficking of migrant girls and women from Burma, Yunnan, Laos and Vietnam. The Foundation of Women reported that children and women were smuggled from the border areas to Thailand or on transit visas in Thailand to other destinations like Europe, Japan and the US, then forced into prostitution. Among the low-price transborder prostitutes at the border areas, the spread of sexually transmitted diseases especially HIV/AIDS is alarming. Information campaigns on HIV/AIDS aimed at these groups have been ineffective since they do not read nor speak Thai.
Trafficked persons arrested in police raids in brothels are charged as illegal immigrants. The Centre for the Protection of Children’s Rights (a Thai NGO), with support from the International Organization for Migration, has a program to repatriate girls and women from Yunnan.
In 1995, the Chambers of Commerce in some border provinces in Thailand submitted a petition to the government to give amnesty to Burmese illegal workers in their provinces. They referred to the shortages in the Thai labour force and the acute need to employ migrant workers in their businesses. The Ministry of Labour implemented a trial amnesty in Ranong province during 1995. The proposed process of amnesty was that employers had to deposit 5,000 baht (US$200) with the provincial labour officer in order to employ a migrant worker. Employers had to guarantee the stay of the worker; otherwise, the deposit would be forfeited. The implementation was not initially successful because migrant workers were afraid of being arrested and did not come for registration. Employers complained that the deposit was too high and that they ran a high risk of losing their deposits due to the high mobility of migrant workers. As a result, both employers and migrant workers worked together directly and illegally instead of going through the newly introduced amnesty system. With such illegal and direct employment, employers did not need to pay the deposit and workers did not need to risk registration and possible arrest. The workers continued to work in hiding and the problem was not resolved. Recently, the Thai National Security Council revised its security policy and agreed to permit migrant workers to work in Thailand (Siam Post, February 1995)
Another group of immigrants to Thailand are asylum seekers. During the 1980s, most asylum seekers were from Indochina. In all, more than one million Indochinese refugees migrated into Thailand (Chantavanich 1993). By 1994, most of them were either resettled in receiving countries or repatriated. The number remaining was only 19,902 in 1995 (see Table 8). In 1996, a handful of Vietnamese and ethnic Hmong from Laos still stay in Thailand. On the other hand, asylum seekers fleeing fighting and political conflicts in Burma have increased dramatically during the 1990s. There are many camps along the border housing an estimated 74,449 Burmese asylum seekers of various ethnic groups (see Table 8). Some Burmese students who were suppressed during the democracy uprisings in Burma during 1988 have formed resistance groups at the border. These groups have approximately 2,000 members. Some Burmese students came to Bangkok and became ‘persons of concern to the UNHCR’. In 1996, all of them were transferred to the Safe Area for Burmese asylum seekers in Ratburi province. In early 1996, there were approximately 600 people in the Safe Area.
E. Issues and Areas of Potential Research
From the history and current situation of transnational migration in Thailand we can identify the following issues which can lead to areas of priority research.
(1) Government policy on transnational migration
(2) Undocumented migration
(3) The impact of transborder migration
(4) The protection of migrants’ rights
(5) The inadequacy of information on transnational migration
Table 2: Number of Thai Contract Labourers by Countries of Employment 1975–1993
Table 3: Estimates of the Number of Thai Labourers Abroad
Table 4: Receiving Countries Where Female Workers Outnumber Male Workers
Table 5: Estimated Number of Undocumented Thai Migrant Workers in Receiving Countries
Table 6: Remittances from Thai Labourers 1985; 1990–1994 (in millions of baht)
Table 7: Number of Contract Migrant Workers in Thailand 1980-1993
Table 8: Estimated Number of Undocumented Migrant Workers in Thailand in 1994
Table 9: Number of Refugees and Asylum Seekers in Thailand 1994
Archavanitkul, K. 1995, An Overview of Transnational Migration in Thailand: Policy and Areas of Research. Institute of Population and Social Research, Mahidol University. (in Thai).
Asian Research Center for Migration 1995, Proceedings of Conference on Transnational Migration in the Asia-Pacific Region: Problems and Prospects, December 1–2, 1994. Institute of Asian Studies, Chulalongkorn University.
Chantavanich, S. 1993, Mass Movements of People from Indochina: Challenges for the 1990s, Jahrbuch fur vergleichende Sozialforschung. Edition Parabolis, Berlin, pp. 75–104.
Chantavanich, S. 1994, ‘Refugees from Myanmar and Indochina’, Asia Yearbook 1994, Institute of Asian Studies, Chulalongkorn University.
Chantavanich, S. 1995, Crossborder Migration in Asia-Pacific and Labour Linkages, Working paper, Institute of Asian Studies, Chulalongkorn University.
Chantavanich, S. & Risser, G. 1995. ‘National Policy and Crossborder Migration in the Asia-Pacific: Security and Social Implications’, Paper presented at the Ninth Asia Pacific Roundtable, Kuala Lumpur, 5–9 June.
Tsay, Ching-lung 1992, ‘Clandestine Labour Migration to Taiwan’, Asia and Pacific Migration Journal, Vol. 1, Nos. 3–4. pp. 637–55.
Wickramasekara, P. 1995, ‘Recent Trends in Temporary Labour Migration in Asia’, Paper presented at the International Seminar on Migration and the Labour Market in Asia in the Year 2000, Tokyo, 19–20 January 1995.
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