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Chapter 3: Migration and the individual.

The previous chapter illustrated the magnitude and characteristics of labor migration and the economic impact of this migration in the Greater Mekong Sub-region. While seeking a better life abroad, migrants face hardships and risks, both in the migration process and once in the new country. This chapter examines the migration process, the working and living conditions of the migrant and the impact of migration on the sending country. The majority of discussion will focus on Thailand as a receiving country, but specific details on the Yunnan province of China, Lao PDR, Vietnam and Cambodia will be given where applicable.

3.1 Choice to Migrate

Economic theory examines migration through a lens of rational choice, assuming humans to be logical self-interested individuals who choose what is best for their own welfare. In this respect, migrants move when expected economic benefits for themselves, or their family, outweigh the cost of migrating. Through this lens, migration is viewed as a selective process, rather than a random occurrence and assumes that non-migrants remain in the origin country because their comparative advantage is in staying. (63)

Recent economic theory on migration views migrants as members of groups and participants in broader social structures developing migrant networks, as well as individuals. Migrant networks are interpersonal ties connecting migrants, former migrants and non migrants in sending and receiving countries through family, friends, and shared community ties. These networks increase the likelihood of movement because they lower the cost and risks of moving and increase the expected net returns to migrate. (64)

Poverty, perceived opportunities abroad and pressure from others are largely cited as reasons migrants choose to leave their home country. These three reasons are often interrelated as those who perceive themselves to be impoverished are more susceptible to pressure from outside persons, family or middlemen, and are more apt to believe in greater opportunities abroad.

The study conducted in Prey Veng province in Cambodia as background to this report found that lack of employment and market opportunities, as well as limited or no access to credit and landlessness were important push factors influencing migration into Thailand. (65) In such circumstances, migration offers a possibility for increased earnings and increased job opportunities.

A 2003 labor migration survey conducted in 6,000 sample households in 33 districts of Lao PDR by the International Labor Organization found that 81.5 percent of people migrating from these districts moved to Thailand. Of those, 87.3 percent were in the lowest income quintile, suggesting that poverty and lack of opportunities in their own villages were a factor in choosing to migrate. A 2005 study of 300 migrants registering at the Lao PDR Department of Job Allocation found that the great majority of them (75%) came from farming households, and that the main factor driving them to migrate was poverty, resulting from crop failure and lack of opportunities in their local village. (66)

While many labor migrants choose to work in a neighboring country in order to earn more money than would be possible at home, migrants often possess an imprecise perception of employment opportunities and the average wage in destination countries. Social networks in the community of origin play a critical role, as potential migrants typically rely on them as main source of information on issues such as migration routes, employment opportunities and housing.

3.2 Migration Process


The majority of intra-Mekong migration is through informal channels. Travel from the country of origin to the new country can be an arduous process for migrants. Migrants travel to the host country border by bus, minibus and foot, at which point migrants cross by foot, boat, car or motorcycle. Migrants cross the border over mountains or rivers where checkpoints are not established, or cross into Thailand legally with a 1-day or 7-day border pass. A study conducted by ARCM of 1000 Burmese migrants in 3 border towns found that over one-half of migrants entered Thailand holding legal documentation and then overstayed, becoming illegal workers.

Migrants largely rely on social networks, or employ the services of brokers to arrange travel routes and assist in finding jobs. The study of migration from Cambodia to Thailand prepared for this report confirmed the importance of both brokers and family networks when migrating. Figure 3.1 divides the role of various entities through the migration process. Migrants used the assistance and knowledge of relatives and brokers over 80 percent of the time during the migration process, from planning the journey through job location once in Thailand.

The role of a broker varies from accompanying migrants from their village to the border assistance with border crossing, or arranging the whole trip and securing employment for the migrants. For these services, brokers charge between USD 25 and USD 600. Migrants risk being cheated, seizure of identity cards and receipt of false information. Some migrants also claim victimization of sexual abuse at origin and destination, and physical abuse at origin.

Human trafficking and smuggling are further risks faced by migrants. Smuggling cases are more common because workers desire to seek employment across the border, but do not possess travel documents. These migrants may require facilitators to assist in the migration process. Human trafficking occurs on a much smaller scale. Studies demonstrate that few migrants are deceived or forced to travel to Thailand. More commonly once in country migrants are deceived in regard to employment. A study conducted by World Vision Foundation of Thailand and ARCM in 2002-2003 found that 12 percent of migrants, among the three major border crossings with Myanmar i.e., Mae Sai, Mae Sod and Ranong, were taken advantage of or forced into prostitution, including 3.9 percent who were forced to work without pay; 1.2 percent who were treated as slaves; and 1 percent who were sexually abused. Deception and exploitation are therefore the two major types of maltreatment migrants encounter in Thailand.

Border towns are utilized as transit points, but migrants rarely stay in these areas. Many migrants remain near the border, but eventually move slightly inward for employment opportunities. Figure 3.2 illustrates the distribution of registered migrants across Thailand. According to the map, provinces bordering Myanmar have the greatest prevalence of migrants. In Thailand, 21 provinces (out of 76) act as host to over 10,000 registered migrants each. A significant percentage of migrants (43%) eventually seek employment in Bangkok or a central province. (67) Bangkok and central provinces offer work in domestic service, construction, manufacturing and transportation. Once in the host country, the irregular or illegal status of migrants ensures little access to basic rights and benefits.


3.3 Working Conditions of Migrants

As incomes increased in the industrial, commercial and service sectors, Thai workers began to abandon low-paying manual labor positions, considered dirty, dangerous and difficult. The shortage of labor and the desire of employers to maintain cheap labor have led to the employment of migrants in these low or unskilled labor positions. In the past few years, the Thai Government has expanded the ability to hire migrant workers from Cambodia, Lao PDR and Myanmar from a few sectors to almost all sectors.

Throughout the last 5 years, the Thai Government has maintained various policies on migrant labor which are discussed in detail in the next chapter. A new strategy was adopted in 2004 by Cabinet decision that focused largely on registration, whereby migrant workers, their dependents, as well as employers are required to register with the Government. Migrant workers and their dependents are issued a thirteen-digit ID number The large number of Lao, Cambodian and Burmese migrants (1,284,920) who responded to the amnesty registration call, alerted the Government to the huge number of irregular workers from neighbor countries living in Thailand. Among the 1,284,920 registered migrants, 838,943 persons completed the entire registration process (having photo ID card and finger prints), while another 103,082 persons were children under 15 years (93,082 children) or elderly. (68)

Employers who intended to hire migrant workers were also expected to register with the Thai Government, with 248,746 employers registering. By registering, employers are announcing the open positions. Thais are granted 15 days to apply for the open positions. If Thai nationals do not apply to fulfill the positions, a committee grants employers permission to employ migrants.

Registration provides irregular migrants with a work permit, but does not change their illegal status. Registered migrants are mildly protected under Thailand's labor laws; while unregistered workers do not receive the same accommodation. Unregistered migrants have no protection against arrest, low wages, and poor working conditions; are more at risk of exploitation; and have restricted mobility and little access to social services. (69)

While registration offers more protection to workers, the registration process may also generate adverse working conditions. As migrants become dependent upon employers either by owing the employer fees for the registration or by not being registered, employers may abuse working hours and wages. According to Thai migration policy, registered migrants are protected by National Labor Laws, but evidence shows that these standards are not being met. For example, not being met. For example, the law mandates working hours to be 48 hours weekly, with overtime paid for each extra hour of work. Several studies reflect that in most sectors illegal migrants work longer hours than the regular hours under Thai labor law. (70) For example, a 2005 study of 276 registered Lao migrants in Thailand found that almost 68 percent worked 7 days per week and another 16.4 percent worked 6 days per week. As Table 3.1 illustrates, the majority (43%) worked between 6 and 10 hours per day, while 27 percent worked between 11 and 15 hours per day. (71)

The National Labor Law also specifies minimum wage, which varies by province from THB141 to THB184 per day. Reports of migrants receiving less than the minimum wage are common and employers often deduct funds for housing and the cost of the worker's permit from the daily wage. But there are also plenty of cases were migrants do report earning the minimum wage, as in the case study of the Samut Sakhon shrimp processing factory. In the absence of representative survey data it is hard to ascertain whether the majority of employers are compliant with minimum wage laws or not. (72)

Table 3.2 presents estimated monthly wages of migrants, comparing registered and non-registered migrants. These data are drawn from several industry case studies. As a reference point, the table also includes average wages for the corresponding sector as estimated from the Labor Force Survey. The data are not strictly comparable--migrant wages come from non-representative surveys/studies, while those inferred from the LFS are nationally representative. Also, the correspondence between sectors is not exact. Nevertheless, it is useful to include a reference point to judge how far off migrant wages may be from industry averages. (73) On average, registered migrants earn more than their non-registered counterparts, portraying a monetary advantage to registration. Indeed, monthly wages of registered migrants are not that different than reported industry averages according to the LFS. Due to the shortage of labor and the heavy workload in the construction sector, migrant construction workers earn more than workers in other sectors although less than the industry average. (74) Overall, wage conditions appear better for registered migrants than non-registered migrants. One group that appears to be poorly paid is domestic workers. This is also matched by case study reports on their vulnerability to abuse and exploitation, linked to the fact that they are typically isolated workers.

Interesting qualitative evidence suggests that wage differentials between migrant and Thai workers are smaller in Bangkok and in places where there are significant migrant communities, and that they are also smaller in sectors/areas where migrants constitute an important fraction of total labor In other words, the ability of migrants to negotiate and enforce better wages (and working conditions) is correlated with their bargaining power. The latter is, not surprisingly, higher when migrants can group together and share information. (75)

Migrants, whether registered or not, are not allowed to form unions. The Thai Labor Relations Act of 1975 states that all union boards must be composed of persons of Thai nationality. The law reduces the possibility of collective action among migrants. Registered migrants may legally join a Thai union, but many employers are reported to hire only non-unionized migrants. These restrictions clearly reduce the ability of migrants to act jointly in pursue of fair working conditions.

Specific working conditions vary by industry. Table 3.3 illustrates the number of registered migrants by sector and nationality for those sectors with the greatest number of migrants registered. The single industries with the most migrant labor are agriculture, domestic service and construction. The most common sector for Burmese migrants is agriculture, where almost 25 percent of registered Burmese migrants are working. While a significant number of Lao migrants also work in agriculture, the sector which appears to attract the most Lao migrants is domestic service. This is likely due to the fact that more females migrate to Thailand from Lao PDR than from any other country. Over 50 percent of Cambodians work in the fishing and construction industries, reflecting the finding that Cambodians in Thailand tend to be more skilled due to higher education levels than migrants from Lao PDR or Myanmar.

Reports of working conditions by industry are largely based on one-off surveys and anecdotal evidence. In these surveys, agricultural workers claimed exposure to chemicals and fertilizers, which adversely affect their health. Many small factories were found to have poor working conditions including: no ventilation in the buildings, low light level and dusty working space. These factories commonly employ unregistered migrants, and such conditions were possibly due to the employers desire to avoid notice of using unregistered migrant labor Meanwhile, migrants working in fishing boats are at sea for weeks, and sometimes months, continuously working and receiving little rest. (76)

3.4 Living Conditions of Migrants

Thai law provides registered migrants with rights to basic social services and labor laws. Thai law does not apply to non-registered migrants, who therefore do not have access to social services. The precarious status of migrants, however provides migrants little recourse if they are denied these basic rights. Studies show that the majority of migrants do not access social services due to the quality of services provided to migrants and the fear of deportation.

3.4.1 Access to Education

In Thailand, a July 2004 Cabinet Resolution approved free education through grade 12 for all children, regardless of legal status. A budget for non-Thai children is allocated on a per-student basis to each school at the same rate as Thai students. Non-Thai students are provided an ID number and passes to travel to and from school.

Currently, the number of migrant children attending school is low compared to the estimated number of migrant children. By some estimates, only I4 percent of children of registered migrants (28 percent of Cambodians, 17 percent of Lao migrants and 13 percent of Burmese migrants) were enrolled in basic education in 2004. (77) Table 3.4 shows the number of Burmese migrant children who were registered compared to the number of Burmese migrant children enrolled in school, by province. The percentage of children enrolled varies across areas and is especially low in Ranong, Samut Sakhon and Chiang Rai. Not all migrant children are registered, so actual enrollment rates are probably even lower than those measured in Table 3.4.

Utilizing the Kanchanaburi dataset, Table 3.5 below illustrates the likelihood of children enrolling in school, based on the household head's migrant status. The table portrays odds ratios. The odds ratio is a way of comparing whether the probability of a certain event is the same for two groups. An odds ratio of 1 implies that the event is equally likely in both groups. An odds ratio greater than one implies that the event is more likely in the first group, while an odds ratio less than one implies that the event is less likely in the first group.

Table 3.5 compares enrollment outcomes in households where the head is Thai living in a Thai village to those in households where the heads are 1) Thai living in a non-Thai village; 2) Non-Thai, born in Thailand and living in Thai village; 3) Non-Thai, born in Thailand and living in a non-Thai village; 4) Foreign-born non-Thai living in a Thai village; and 5) Foreign-born non-Thai living in a non-Thai village. A first surprising result is that Thais living in a predominantly non-Thai village are less likely to have their children enrolled in school irrespective of the age group, than Thais living in a Thai village. This indicates that irrespective of the nationality of the household head there is a negative 'village effect' associated with living in a majority non-Thai village. This is likely to reflect poorer access to, or poorer quality of, schooling in non-Thai villages. Even more dramatically, children of foreign born non-Thais, whether living in a Thai village or a non-Thai village, are far less likely to enroll in school than any other category and particularly less likely to enroll than Thais living in a Thai village. While children of non-Thais born in Thailand are less likely to be enrolled between the ages of 7 and 12, they are slightly more likely to be enrolled between the ages of 13 and 18 than Thais born in Thailand of the same age. This reflects perhaps a higher prevalence of late entry among households headed by a non-Thai born in Thailand. Overall, if the head of the household was born in Thailand, Thai or non-Thai, the children are more likely to attend school than if the head of the household was born outside of the country.

While all children are legally permitted to attend school, migrant children face special obstacles including: 1) local schools refusing to accept migrant students; 2) the cash expense of uniforms and books; and 3) the lack of Thai language skills. Informal schools organized by humanitarian organizations provide migrant children basic skills of learning and writing in the child's native language. While representing only one province in one given period, Table 3.5 assists in demonstrating the outcome of the obstacles faced by migrant children in Thailand.

3.4.2 Access to Health Services

Registered migrants in Thailand are eligible for health insurance as if they were enrolled in the Government's 30 Baht Health Scheme. (78) Migrants are first expected to pay USD15 for a medical exam and approximately USD 32 for 1 year of health insurance. Unregistered migrants are not entitled to health insurance and must pay the full cost of any health treatment. Moreover, some provincial hospitals maintain policies of reporting migrants to the immigration authorities, thus reducing the likelihood of migrants using the hospital. For these reasons, migrants tend to treat themselves with over-the-counter medication when ill, visiting the health center or hospital only when in dire straits. The lack of treatment translates into longer and more serious illnesses. Lack of access to health can also give rise to significant negative externalities for public health. Lack of awareness of and lack of access to prevention services for HIV/AIDS, for example, is resulting in rising incidence of HIV among particular migrant populations. The Ministry of Public Health and some NGOs, such as MSF-Thailand, are aware of the risks this poses and are working closely with migrant populations to improve HIV/AIDS prevention and improve risk behavior.

Migrant children also suffer from the lack of healthcare. All children in Thailand are eligible to receive free vaccinations against tuberculosis, diphtheria, pertussis, tetanus, oral polio virus, and measles. For the same reasons that migrant adults rarely receive health treatment, migrant children rarely receive vaccinations. In Tak province, the number of migrant children eligible for immunization who were vaccinated was less than one-third of the number of migrant children eligible and registered. As discussed previously, the number of migrant children is expected to be far greater than the number registered; therefore vaccination rates are even lower than calculated.

3.4.3 Sleeping Quarters

The majority of migrants into Thailand live in accommodation provided by their employer. These living quarters vary depending on the industry in which the worker is engaged, but are often poorly ventilated and have little access to hygienic facilities, exposing inhabitants to a variety of diseases. Construction workers usually live in working sites with basic facilities; agricultural workers erect own shelters on the land; factory workers share living space with several other workers close to or attached to the factory; and domestic workers are usually provided accommodation. The accommodation often provides minimal space and little privacy. (79)

While access to social services for all registered migrants is mandated by Thai law, migrants use the services little. A lack of knowledge as to their rights combined with the vulnerability of their status withinThai society creates an environment in which migrants are unlikely to demand services they are entitled to use.

3.5 Impact of Migration on Households in Sending Country

While living and working conditions are often difficult in Thailand, migrant workers bear the risks in pursuit of a better life for themselves and their families. As detailed in Chapter 2, the greatest economic impact of migration on the sending country household is through remittances. Remittances directly augment the income of the recipient households, helping families meet daily needs and weather shocks. Various studies across the world illustrate that remittances are associated with increased household investments in health, education and entrepreneurship. In many countries, children in remittance receiving households are less likely to drop out of school and more likely to access health care than those who do not receive remittances. Overall, remittances are an important source of income for families.

Little information is available on remittances from Thailand to the country of origin. One exception is the qualitative study on the impact of remittances on Prey Veng province communities in Cambodia, which was commissioned as a background paper for this AAA program. This study found that remittances have a significant impact on Cambodian households' economy, with 91 percent of respondents claiming that remittances were very important.

The study concluded that in terms of overall absolute investment, households used the funds most for health, debt repayment and purchase of (mainly non-durable) goods. Households reported using funds for debt repayment related to their job, or generated by health expenses or food needs. The most common "goods" purchased were food, fertilizer and gasoline. The large percentage of remittances channeled to health may illustrate that health is first sacrificed when funds are not available, but is corrected when families receive greater income.

The study concluded that in terms of overall absolute investment, households used the funds most for health, debt repayment and purchase of (mainly non-durable) goods. Households reported using funds for debt repayment related to their job, or generated by health expenses or food needs. The most common "goods" purchased were food, fertilizer and gasoline. The large percentage of remittances channeled to health may illustrate that health is first sacrificed when funds are not available, but is corrected when families receive greater income. (80)

The recent Lao Poverty Assessment found that rural households with greater cash flow tended to allocate less land to rice, the staple food, and more land to cash crops. This has tremendous implications for remittance usage. If a household were to receive more cash in-hand through remittances, the family would have a better ability to meet daily needs without devoting all of their land to rice. The household would then be able to generate income through investing in cash crops.

Beyond meeting daily needs, remittances can provide families with the ability to weather shocks, generate income and access social services. Many families of migrants rely on remittances to maintain their quality of life. A risk that families receiving large amounts of remittances may become dependent on this source of income, and may prefer to reduce work efforts exists. If widespread, this dependency could dampen growth in the home country. Within the GMS, this risk however, is minimal. Due to the wages and working conditions described earlier households are unlikely to receive massive inflows of income from family members working within the region.

In the GMS, the hardships of unskilled or low-skilled migrants are many, but for those who choose to migrate, the perceived benefits of a better quality of life for their families are often worth the price.
Table 3.1 Working Conditions

Working Conditions Total

Days per week
4 days 0.4%
5 days 3.0%
6 days 16.4%
7 days 67.6%
Irregular 12.7%

Total 100%

Hours per day
2-5 hours 4.2%
6-10 hours 43.0%
11-15 hours 27.0%
16 hours or more 2.1%
Irregular 23.6%

Total 100%

Source: Thongyu and Ayuwat, 2005

Table 3.2 Monthly Incomes of Migrants, 2004 (Thai Baht)

 Registered Unregistered Industry
Sector migrant migrant Average LFS

Agriculture 3000-4000 1500-3000 2695
Construction 4500-6000 3000-3300 4889
Domestic work 2000-4000 1000-3000 4187
Entertainment -- 3000-10000 --
Factory 3000-5000 1000-3000 6162 (all mfg)
Fishery 3000-4500 2400-4000 4422
Fishery related work 3000 500-2400
General labor 3000 600-3000 --

Source: Chantavanich et al, 2006 for migrant wages; NSO, Labor Force
Survey statistics, for industry averages

Table 3.3 Registered Migrants by Sector and Nationality, 2004

By Sector Employers Myanmar Lao PDR

1. Fishing 6,518 33,178 2,634
2. Fish processing 2,548 62,923 1,013
3. Agricultural 44,811 143,793 16,795
4. Construction 10,387 81,554 8,442
5. Domestic Service 88,059 88,319 31,449
6. Others 45,481 200,339 39,019

Total 197,804 610,106 99,352

By Sector Cambodia Total

1. Fishing 22,874 58,686
2. Fish processing 4,666 68,602
3. Agricultural 18,816 179,404
4. Construction 24,463 114,459
5. Domestic Service 8,746 128,514
6. Others 25,224 264,582

Total 104,789 814,247

Source: Ministry of Labor, 2004

Table 3.4 Number of Burmese
Attending Thai School

 Registered Migrant
 Migrant Children
 Children (1) Enrolled
Area (2004) (2003)

Bangkok 689 44
Chiang Mai 11721 2849
Chiang Rai 3948 123
Chumporn 1790 438
Prachuabkirikun 1774 426
Karnchanaburi 5241 2002
Mae Hong Son 1584 1416
Rajburi 1283 232
Ranong 8227 19
Samut Sakhon 2896 60
Tak 10017 1661

Source: Chantavanich et al, 2006

(1) Children refers to ages 0-15

Table 3.5 Predicting School Enrollment among Children

 Children Children
Migrant status, and type of village aged 7-12 aged 13-18

Thai, in Thai village --
Thai, in non-Thai village 0.6 0.7
Non-Thai, born in Thailand, in Thai village 0.6 1.3
Non-Thai, born in Thailand, in non-Thai 0.4 1.2
Non-Thai, born outside Thailand, in Thai 0.1 0.3
Non-Thai, born outside Thailand, in non-Thai 0.1 0.4

Source: jumpkalay, 2006

Note: * Significant at 0.05 level; ** Significant at 0.001 level;
data from 2004 Model controls for residential area, sex, age,
occupation, education of household head, and household size

Figure 3.3 Remittances by area of investment ($)

Goods 25%
Housing 14%
Land 2%
Health 31%
Debt 25%
Religion 0%
Education 3%

Source: Maltoni, 2006

Note: Table made from pie chart.
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Title Annotation:LABOR MIGRATION in the Greater Mekong Sub-region
Publication:Labor Migration In the Greater Mekong Sub-Region - Synthesis Report: Phase 1
Date:Nov 1, 2006
Previous Article:Chapter 2: Patterns and characteristics of migration in the GMS.
Next Article:Chapter 4: Evolution of migration-management policies in the GMS.

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