Around 60,000 foreign workers, mostly from Myanmar and Cambodia, left Thailand between 23 and 28 June, after the government promised a crackdown on foreign workers.
The military government adopted stricter regulations on migrant labour, which it is claimed created panic and a mass exodus of workers leaving the country.
“They were of all nationalities, but the biggest group was from Myanmar,” deputy commissioner Pornchai Kuntee told Reuters. “They are probably very scared.”
A suddenly depleted workforce has hit some organisations with large migrant labour workforces hard.
“The private sector is in shock,” said Tanit Sorat, vice chairman of the Employers' Confederation of Thailand. “These are jobs that Thais will not do, so if there is a labour shortage businesses cannot move forward.”
The new law includes fines for employers of up to THB 800,000 (around US$23,500) if they hire unregistered foreign workers without permits.
While some employers have been in a hurry to either dismiss or register large numbers of their workforce, the government promised a 120-day delay in enforcing the laws. It is believed this announcement was made in response to the large number of workers leaving in just five days.
The sudden rush to leave the country has left thousands of people needing to cross the border vulnerable to exploitation by corrupt border officials, added Andy Hall, a migrant workers' rights expert.
Tensions between Thailand and Myanmar over migrant labour have arisen before. Last year, Thailand banned two workers rights groups from Myanmar for criticising recruitment practices in the country. That came a week after 10,000 Myanmarese workers were arrested and deported.
In 2014, a quarter of a million Cambodian workers left Thailand after the military took power and began a crackdown on illegal immigrants.
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