Ho Pha left his home in Kompong Thom province in 2014, heading to Thailand to work with his cousin and earn more money. The move had become a trend in his family, he said on Sunday, with nearly 20 immediate and extended family members having migrated across the border for work.
“If there were jobs available where I could earn enough money, I would go back” to Kompong Thom, where his parents still live, the 33-year-old said.
Instead, he is temporarily working as a security guard in Phnom Penh as he awaits paperwork so he can return to his construction job in Thailand’s Rayong province.
“I don’t know about any jobs available in my province,” he said.
Mr. Pha is among an estimated 1 million Cambodian migrants working in Thailand.
Much like him, 80 percent of the low-skill migrant workers surveyed in a study released last week by the Open Institute, a local technology NGO, said they had been recruited by family members. An additional 80 percent of “potential migrants” said they would prefer to stay in the country for work.
But while the research found that there was actually a close match between the domestic demand for low-skill laborers in manufacturing, hospitality, construction and security, workers were largely unaware of employment opportunities in the country, which on average pay slightly less than comparable jobs in Thailand.
This is creating an unnecessary—and often unwanted—boost to cross-border migration, said Federico Barreras, one of the study’s researchers.
“Even though there is an existing national employment demand and an excess supply…there is a perception that Cambodian jobs are good, but they don’t connect with each other,” he said. “So clearly, there is an information gap.”
The research surveyed 315 migrant workers, 240 potential migrants and 239 employers in Battambang, Banteay Meanchey, Kompong Cham and Prey Veng provinces between January and September. Among the migrant workers, 72 percent said they moved without any information about their job.
“We strongly recommend the production of services that can help in connecting employers and employees,” Mr. Barreras said. “People with information tend to migrate more safely.”
But according to Barry Jessen, country program manager for Samaritan’s Purse, an international relief NGO, migration patterns cannot be boiled down so easily.
While he said Banteay Meanchey has seen a spike in migration for work—from 30 percent in 2013 to 55 percent early this year—there were many contributing factors.
“Qualitative data indicates that the massive drought over the last 3 years has forced many more people who would usually get by on their rice cropping to migrate to meet basic needs,” he said in an email.
A significant portion had struggled to find work domestically, he conceded, but added that he believed this was due to a surplus of workers in the country and the lure of new opportunities elsewhere.
“For many communities migration is a way of life—it is as normal and natural as planting rice and so there is no question about it—you just do it,” he said.