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05 Oct 2015

IOM-MPI Issue in Brief No. 6 - Thailand at a Crossroads: Challenges and Opportunities in Leveraging Migration for Development

Over recent decades, Thailand has developed into a regional migration hub in Southeast Asia, with more than 3.5 million migrants living there — the vast majority of them workers from neighboring countries. 

Although officially considered temporary migrants, many have lived in Thailand for a decade or more. While most are low-skilled and from nearby Cambodia, Lao People's Democratic Republic and Myanmar, Thailand's relatively open economy also attracts highly skilled workers from a wide range of countries around the world. In 2010 more than 100,000 foreigners held work permits for high-skilled occupations. 

In Thailand at a Crossroads: Challenges and Opportunities in Leveraging Migration for Development, authors Jerry Huguet, Aphichat Chamratrithirong and Claudia Natali examine the country's two basic approaches to regularizing labour migration: Memoranda of Understanding with migrant-sending neighbours and nationality verification as a preliminary step for work permit application by migrants who had entered irregularly.

The authors find that Thailand, given its robust and growing economy, is well positioned to take advantage of the benefits of migration. However, they add, harnessing migration's full potential would require the introduction of comprehensive, long-term migration policies that address the realities facing migrants living in Thailand, of which more than 1 million remain unregistered. Many migrants in Thailand face obstacles to decent work opportunities, access to health care and civil rights.

The issue brief is the sixth in a series launched by the Migration Policy Institute (MPI) and the International Organization for Migration’s Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific offering succinct insights on migration issues affecting the Asia-Pacific region today. To read earlier briefs in the series, visit IOM Online Bookstore or Migration Policy Institute

  • Executive Summary
  • I. Introduction
  • II. Migration and Development in Thailand: three observations
    1. International migration has a small but net positive impact on the Thai economy
    2. Many migrants in Thailand face a number of constraints on their access to decent work opportunities, civil rights and adequate health care
    3. While migration into Thailand is temporary by law, the reality is that many migrants have stayed for long periods
  • III. Strengthening the migration-development link: four viable options
    1. Establishing a centralized migration management authority in Thailand
    2. Formulating and implementing a comprehensive migration policy in consultation with stakeholders, including migrants’ representatives
    3. Empowering migrant workers
    4. Enhancing public dialogue on migration
  • IV. Conclusion
  • References
  • Endnotes
  • About the Authors
  • Acknowledgments