The economic contribution of migrant workers to Thailand: Towards policy development

This paper highlights the contributions of migrant workers to Thailand and recommends policies to promote economic development and decent work in both receiving and sending countries. The ILO views labour migration as a positive force that can stimulate economic growth and development in both labour-sending and labour– receiving countries, and has developed a framework of principles, guidelines and examples to ensure that labour migration contributes to decent work for all (ILO, 2004, 2006).

In 2007, migrant workers in Thailand totaled 1.8 million, comprising 5 per cent of the Thai labour force. They are mainly from Myanmar, Cambodia and Lao PDR, and are employed mostly in agriculture and fisheries, construction, manufacturing, and services such as domestic workers. They are primarily young workers, in the age group that typically pays taxes rather than receives tax-supported services. The report estimates that, in recent years, migrants have made a net contribution of about US$53 million annually to the Thai economy. The report proposes changing migration policy to make it more flexible, with separate registration procedures for different economic sectors, and placing recruitment and deployment under Memoranda of Understanding with migrant sending countries. Labour migration is a process to be managed and not a problem to be solved, argues the report. By recognizing the contributions of migrant workers to the economy and following the proposed adjustments to migration policy, the Thai government could better manage labour migration while protecting migrants.