Thailand is short of 500,000 foreign workers after government lifted most Covid bans

THAILAND faces a shortage of about 500,000 foreign workers in its manufacturing and services sectors to support an economic recovery from the pandemic, with the government having lifted almost all Covid-related travel and business restrictions.

A combination of factors including civil strife in Myanmar and virus outbreaks in neighboring countries has led to fewer-than-expected people seeking work in Thailand. Meanwhile, demand for staff is growing, especially in tourism-related sectors as well as labor-intensive industries like construction and fisheries, where Thais reject jobs because of low pay and difficult work conditions.

“This is a serious problem as Thailand needs these foreign workers to help drive the economy,” said Poj Aramwattananont, vice chairman of the Thai Chamber of Commerce. “We will need more workers going forward because we have lots of major infrastructure projects. We also have many services-sector jobs that need to be filled.”

South-East Asia’s second-largest economy is on a recovery path after enduring its steepest contraction in more than two decades in 2020. More than 300,000 foreign workers were estimated to have left Thailand since the pandemic started, with only about 20,000 having returned this year under the bilateral contracts between Thailand and some peers in Asean.

Around 2.5 million foreign workers are estimated to live in Thailand now, according to the Department of Employment DG Piroj Chotikasatien.

The government recently changed rules to enable people with Laos, Myanmar, Vietnam and Cambodia nationalities who are now working illegally in Thailand to register and gain a pathway into the formal system. It also extended the expiring work permits for about 1.7 million people through 2025.

As many as 500 people from neighboring countries are now crossing borders every day to seek work in Thailand. That number will soon increase to 2,000 per day, according to Department of Employment estimates.

“The problem is not how much we want but how much we will get as other nations like Japan and China also need foreign workers,” Poj said. “We have competitors.”