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Migrant workers left in limbo as meeting delayed

The fate of more than 260,000 migrant workers from Myanmar, Laos and Cambodia hung in the balance for another day after a committee on migrant worker management delayed a meeting yesterday to consider whether to grant a three-month "grace" period for them to complete verification procedures.

A delay would give migrant workers who failed to verify their nationality by the December 14 deadline an opportunity to process their requests to have work permits within three months, said Labour Minister Phadermchai Sasomsap.

The committee and Cabinet have yet to consider the proposal to relax the deadline as Deputy Prime Minister Chalerm Yoobamrung, who chaired the committee, was too busy to meet yesterday. He said that the meeting would be held this afternoon.

If the committee backs the move in its meeting today, the Labour Ministry will forward the proposal to Cabinet for endorsement, and Phadermchai expected it would be announced within a few weeks.

Authorities said earlier migrant workers from the three countries would be deported unless they were able to verify their nationality and obtain work permits before the deadline. However, the process has been criticised for being slow, inconvenient, and expensive for both migrants and Thai employers.

Phadermchai said the idea was to grant a relaxation and not extend the nationality verification process, adding that the government aimed to be "flexible" to save migrants being arrested for illegal entry.

A statement reportedly made by Premier Yingluck Shinawatra to Myanmar President Thein Sein in Dawei last week that the deadline would be extended had been misinterpreted, he said.

"The prime minister simply told the Myanmar leader that the measures of relaxation would enable Myanmar workers to have more time to collect their legal documents from home," he said.

"But if the prime minister has a policy to extend the deadline or promised Myanmar's leader to extend the deadline, she was supposed to inform the Labour Ministry," he said. "But there has been no new instruction, so far."






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