The Thai government has agreed to set up stations across Thailand where Cambodian illegal migrant workers can register for documents that will allow them to stay and work in the country, Labor Minister Ith Sam Heng said at a news conference on Thursday.
About 300,000 of more than 1 million Cambodians working in Thailand do not have any legal documents, including passports, according to the Thai Labor Ministry, said Mr. Sam Heng, who had just returned from visiting his Thai counterpart.
Those workers will be able to apply for a travel document—unofficially called a “black passport”—without having to return to Cambodia, he said at the conference at Phnom Penh International Airport.
The documentation is set to cost 950 baht, or 2,350 baht for expedited processing—about $28 or $69, respectively—Mr. Sam Heng said.
The minister said that those who have already returned to Cambodia would need to go through the normal process of acquiring a passport, visa and work permit.
Ministry spokesman Heng Sour said workers could use a black passport to work in Thailand for up to five years.
Thousands of Cambodians have been flooding back into the country since Thailand passed new laws late last month aimed at addressing a largely undocumented foreign workforce. Harsher punishments—workers can face up to five years in prison for having no or improper work permits—combined with news of arrests and deportations led many workers to flee.
Mr. Sam Heng praised the new Thai labor laws, but said the quick implementation had caused panic.
“It is a good thing—it prevents human trafficking and exploiting the labor of foreign workers, but this law also caused concerns regarding the time of implementing the law…when it was announced at first,” he said.
“It caused concerns for Burmese and Cambodian workers to leave, and caused concern for employers…as well,” he added.
To calm the situation, the Thai government suspended enforcement of the legislation and announced a 120-day grace period on Friday, extending it to 180 days on Tuesday. The new laws will not be enforced until January 1 next year.
Mr. Sam Heng said 4,000 Cambodians returned from Thailand through various checkpoints on Thursday alone.
Figures provided by the International Organization of Migration, who get their numbers from the Poipet City government, showed the usual amount of between 150 to 200 returnees through the Poipet International Checkpoint shooting up to 647 on June 28 and continuing to climb to almost 1,000. The number was down to 528 on Thursday, according to a border officer who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media.
“I hope there is no need to worry more about that. Thai police won’t implement [the deportation of] Cambodian migrant workers out of Thailand,” Mr. Sam Heng said. “The Thai authorities have also informed employers not to dismiss Cambodian migrant workers,” he added.