Cambodian workers living in the provinces along the Cambodian-Thai borders have been returning in droves to apply for border passes which grant them the right to legally work and do business in the neighbouring country, since the two nations agreed to reopen border checkpoints at the regional level on May 1.
Banteay Meanchey Provincial Administration spokesman Sek Sokhom said about 500 workers a day came to apply for the passes, which cost about 20,000 riel ($5) per card.
“In one day, about 400 to 500 people in our province come to collect passes – especially workers and traders. They are all hurrying to get hold of the passes, as they are a legal requirement,” he said.
He added that the cards could only be used by people living in the border provinces – such as those in Banteay Meanchey who work in Thailand’s Sa Kaeo province or those in Pailin who do business in Trat province across the border – to facilitate access between the two areas.
Those who hold this card have the right to enter and leave the country at will until a certain date. If they wish to extend their stay beyond the deadline, their employer can continue to extend the validity of the pass, according to their requirements.
“For example, a large construction site in Thailand may require a lot of labourers, so the project managers will have agents who bring several passes to the border at once and have them extended – as they do with visas in passports,” he said.
Despite the reopening of Poipet International Border Checkpoint in Banteay Meanchey – which limits crossing to residents of the border provinces – a number of workers still illegally cross via forest corridors, but the number remains lower than it was before the pandemic-induced border closures.
“The Poipet border checkpoint has only legal workers passing though, while workers seeking to work or do business illegally are still sneaking in through the corridors. Generally speaking, we cannot completely seal the entire border. No matter how often we conduct patrols or how much we tighten regulations, there are always some illegal workers trying to get through,” he said.
In Battambang province, Kamrieng district governor Koeun Satya said the province had been operating under the conditions laid out in a signed memorandum between Battambang authorities and their Thai counterparts in Chanthaburi province.
“Workers need to have vaccination cards which show at least two doses, together with a border pass, and a Thai employer must have requested their services. Currently, Thai employers are hiring between one and two hundred people a week,” he said.
He added that before the Covid-19 outbreak, border passes could be extended for up to two years, but the length of extension was now limited to a single year.
Now that the border had been open for almost a month, he said people living in the district could travel normally with their border pass; they entered Thailand in the morning to sell products or trade and returned in the evening.
“In my opinion, the government’s decision to open the borders was the right one. In matters of mutual trade, it is very important,” he said.
The number of illegal migrant workers in the district has also decreased due to the fact that people were more aware of the risks associated with using fraudulent brokers. District authorities had helped increase that awareness, he added.
“Because we have opened the checkpoint, there is no great demand for brokers. People got the information we shared, and don’t want to be cheated,” he said.