Migration corridor

Myanmar Thailand

The economies of Thailand and Myanmar are heavily reliant on migrant workers: for labour and remittances respectively. Despite that, a long-term national migration policy and migrant workers and their rights are not a particularly high priority in either country. An upper estimate of five million Myanmar workers work in Thailand, although official figures on both sides are lower. Overseas migration for work is now largely viewed by the Myanmar authorities as a means to help the state achieve national development goals, reduce poverty and relieve pressure on the domestic labour market.

Myanmar Thailand migration corridor

The numbers

  • Metric myanmar thailand 01 Migrants from Myanmar who work in Thailand 3 - 5 million
  • Metric myanmar thailand 02 Minimum wages in Thailand compared to Myanmar 3x higher
  • Metric myanmar thailand 03 Percentage of Myanmar’s GDP from overseas workers 13 percent

In Thailand’s booming economy - where most the migrants are unskilled workers from neighbouring countries and many are irregular/undocumented - they are pragmatically tolerated amidst historic xenophobia. The focus of the Thai government remains controlling irregular migration through a carrot and stick policy of regularisation and deportation. Controlling the flow from Myanmar however is particularly difficult given the long and porous borders between the two countries which facilitates easy informal migration - within an entire system of brokers and payoffs.

Given the reality that migration is a long-term scenario for both countries, they have been independently attempting to develop migration policies and strengthen the largely inadequate legal and regulatory framework, working closely with ILO and IOM. Progress however has been patchy: a lack of coherence and clarity remains endemic, amidst a general lack of consistent enforcement.

In recent years there has been a renewed focus - led by Thailand - on formal recruitment of workers based on a 2016 MOU and agreement. Although at times represented as a Govt-to- Govt process, this is largely an umbrella bureaucratic framework for private sector recruitment agencies to match workers to jobs. With the military playing a prominent role in governance in both countries, security concerns / agencies invariably dominate the discussion on migration.

Research for this report was completed prior to the February 2021 military coup in Myanmar. As such the report’s analysis does not attempt to assess the implications of the coup for the fair recruitment of migrant workers. The recommendations in this report are directed to the National Unity Government of the Republic of the Union of Myanmar, which formed in April 2021 in response to a military coup in February 2021.

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Workers from Myanmar at a Mae Sot factory, 2020. © Jittapron Kaicome
Policy summaries of Myanmar - Thailand