At a time when Thailand is starting to reopen after the pandemic, the country is facing a critical shortage of foreign workers.
Demand has been growing in sectors such as tourism, construction, and fisheries, but fewer people than expected are seeking work in Thailand due to factors such as political strife in Myanmar and virus outbreaks in neighboring countries. This has left the country with a shortage of about 500,000 workers, reports Bloomberg.
The Thai government has lifted almost all COVID-related travel and business restrictions in recent months, but this has not been enough to attract the necessary number of workers.
Thailand is Southeast Asia’s second-largest economy and is starting to recover after a severe contraction in 2020. Since the pandemic began, an estimated 300,000 foreign workers have left the country, and only about 20,000 have returned this year.
Myanmar is a crucial source of labor for Thailand, with an estimated 3 million migrant workers. The two countries have a history of labor migration, but it has intensified in recent years as Myanmar’s economy has stagnated. However, due to the political situation in Myanmar, many migrant workers are reluctant to return.
This critical shortage of workers could hamper Thailand’s economic recovery and threaten its goal of becoming a developed nation by 2037. The government is working to attract more foreign workers through bilateral agreements with other countries in the region, but it remains to be seen if this will be enough to meet the country’s needs.
“This is a serious problem as Thailand needs these foreign workers to help drive the economy. 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,” said Poj Aramwattananont, vice-chairman of the Thai Chamber of Commerce.
Laos may provide some relief, as workers from the country continue to look for better prospects in Thailand.
According to a Radio Free Asia report, hundreds of Laotians wait every day outside the Lao Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Vientiane to apply for or renew passports so they may go to Thailand, where they want to find higher-paying employment and escape soaring prices.
“We see around 1,000 to 1,500 Laotians entering Thailand [at Nong Khai], and there are over 2,000 people on the weekends. They come for all reasons, and some of them are tourists and migrant workers,” a border guard said to Radio Free Asia.