Migrant workers heading home for water festival

Migrant workers heading home for water festival

Myanmar workers arrive at Mae Sot border checkpoint early in the morning, preparing to cross the border to return home. (Bangkok Post photo)

Workers from neighbouring countries began an exodus home for the lunar new year festival on Wednesday, happy the cabinet had exempted them from exit and re-entry fees until April 30.

Labour Minister Sirichai Distakul said the water festival, celebrated as Songkran in Thailand, was a cultural event common to other Asean member countries, particularly Cambodia, Myanmar and Laos.

So the government had decided to allow migrant workers to go home for the occasion without the burden of having to pay extra fees, beginning April 5. 

They were required to return and report to work by April 30 or they would lose their work permits. Last year, about 8,000 Cambodians were stranded at border checkpoints becaused they returned after the deadline, he said.

Waranon Pitiwan, director-general of the Employment Department, said there are two categories of workers.

In the first category are workers holding pink cards issued for non-Thai nationals and family members aged below 18 years. The cards expire on either Nov 30 or March 31 next year. They must return by April 30  or they would not be allowed to re-enter the country.

They must obtain a letter of permission to go home for the festival from an Employment Department office in the province where they work. They must show the letter to immigration officials and be stamped out and back in at the border.  They must return via their point of departure.

In the second category are workers holding a certificate of identity (CI) or a passport.  They are not required to apply for the letter of permission from the Employment Department.  They can show only their CI or passport to immigration officials. If they want to return after April 30, they must apply for re-entry and pay a 1,000 baht fee before leaving the country, otherwise they would not be allowed to re-enter.

Workers in both categories are exempted from departure and re-entry fees  for the period April 5 – 30.

Mr Waranon said during this period there will be no registration of migrant workers who entered the country illegally.  All workers allowed dispensation to go home for the festival must have been properly registered and have documents issued by the Labour Department.

In Tak province, Myanmar workers flocked to the immigration office in Mae Sot to get their documents stamped before going home across the Thai-Myanmar Friendship Bridge on Wednesday morning.

Pol Col Somchai Detphae, the Mae Sot immigration chief, said all 16 channels were opened to expedite the process.

Many vehicles were seen on the other side of the bridge, waiting to take returning workers to their hometowns.

Maung Mo, 28, from Pa-an in Myanmar, who works at an instant noodle factory in Nakhon Pathom, said he was glad the government had waived the fees, which would save him money.  He intended to return to work on time after the water festival.

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