Thailand eases barriers to foreign workers, but ratio cap remains

Thailand eases barriers to foreign workers, but ratio cap remains
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In response to increasing demands from foreign and domestic business owners over a shortage of suitable labour the Thailand government is set to reduce the number of occupations prohibited to foreign workers.

The easing of restrictions highlights key industry sectors now beginning to be hurt by labour shortages as the Thai economy breaks into a gallop, jeopardising the country’s ability to fully embrace its much touted Thailand 4.0 policy and sustain the recent momentum.

Low-, semi- and skilled vocations are included in those set to be opened to foreign workers after publication of a ministerial regulation in the Royal Gazette, expected on July 1 .

At the higher end of the skilled scale civil engineering, architectural (except work which shows Thai identity, culture or art) and accountancy (except internal auditing) positions will be able to be filled by foreign workers. To ensure no project goes unbuilt restrictions on bricklaying, carpentry, and ‘other construction work’ will also be eased.

At the lower end of the occupation scale ‘jobs without specialised knowledge’ such as labouring, agriculture, animal husbandry, forestry or fishery work will also have their bans lifted, as too will making mattresses or quilts, and knife making.

All up a total of 12 occupations have been removed from the black list, leaving 28, including driving vehicles, front of shop sales, hairdressing, tour guides, and golf caddying still prohibited to foreigners,

The lifting of the 12 occupations was announced late last week by Anurak Tossarat, director-general of the Department of Employment (DoE), who said the recommendations came after consulting a number of industry groups and professional bodies, in addition to information gathered through its own website.

Thousands of jobs vacant as economy steams ahead

42,000 job sit vacant in the Thailand seafood and fishing sectors alone
42,000 job sit vacant in the Thailand seafood and fishing sectors alone John Le Fevre

Just last week Labor Minister Police General Adul Sangsingkeo ordered relevant units to find a quick solution to a shortage of more than 42,000 workers in Thailand’s fishing and seafood industries.

In good news for the government the Thai economy grew by 4.8 per cent in the first quarter of 2018, its fastest growth in five years.

With revised 2018 Thailand GDP now put at 4.7 per cent, the rapid increase in economic activity is highlighting deficiencies across the board, particularly in labour-intensive industries.

However, with the exception of large companies, few others will be able to avail themselves of the external expertise the lifting of restrictions could provide.

While the government’s highly prized Eastern Economic Corridor (EEC) provides exemptions to a newly implemented cap on foreign employees, the same privileges are not available for Thailand’s three million SMEs.

Employing some 11 million people, about ten million of who are foreign workers, the current 25 per cent ratio limit of foreign workers is, according to Federation of Thai Industries (FTI) chairman Supant Mongkolsuthree, a “critical obstacle” to nationwide growth.

As part of efforts to combat human trafficking and bonded labour the Thailand government has been attempting to document every foreign worker in the country.

Between February 5 and March 31 Thailand registered and verified 961,946 migrant workers, with a further 360,222 registered, but waiting to complete document verification process.

Since reopening the One Stop Service Centres (OSS) on April 23 more than 190,000 foreign workers had been verified up to May 22, with 170,000 yet to complete the process.

Thais not willing to do manual labour

Harsh penalties come into effect from July 1, 2018 for employing undocumented or incorrectly documented foreign workers
Harsh penalties come into effect from July 1, 2018 for employing undocumented or incorrectly documented foreign workers John Le Fevre

However, as from July 1, 2018 harsh penalties come into effect with fines of Bt50,000-Bt200,000 (about US$1,561-$6,246) per undocumented or incorrectly documented foreign employee. Foreign workers found without the necessary or correct documentation will be subject to fines of between Bt5,000 and Bt50,000, followed by deportation.

Describing the labour shortage as “widespread across the country”, Mr Mongkolsuthree said there has been a labour shortage for several years, with local employers having particular difficulties filling positions that require manual effort.

“The 25 per cent employment cap will force hardship on SMEs. It is impossible to cap the proportion of migrant workers in the SME sector”, he added.

Similar views are held by Taniwan Koonmongkon, president of the Thai Restaurant Association (TRA).

The hospitality and tourism industries are expected to be hit particularly hard by the 25 per cent ration cap, with one foreign manager of a large, international hotel chain who did not wish to be identified telling AEC News Today that it is not just a matter of costs rising due to the 25 per cent cap, it’s whether there will be sufficient staff to operate effectively and maintain the standards.

In an interview with the Bangkok Post earlierthis month Ms Koonmongkon said “business owners prefer to use foreign workers, giving them work permits and the same social welfare same as locals. They cannot find Thais to work such jobs,” she said.


Feature photo John Le Fevre



  • Migrant labour cap piques businesses (Bangkok Post)
  • Growth view up to 4.2-4.7% (Bangkok Post)
  • Foreigners continue call for lifting ownership cap (Bangkok Post)
  • MOL to allow migrant workers to work in 12 occupations currently reserved for Thais (NNT)


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John Le Fevre

Thailand editor at AEC News Today

John is an Australian national with more than 40 years experience as a journalist, photographer, videographer, and copy editor.

He has spent extensive periods of time working in Africa and throughout Southeast Asia, with stints in the Middle East, the USA, and England.

He has covered major world events including Operation Desert Shield/ Storm, the 1991 pillage in Zaire, the 1994 Rwanda genocide, the 1999 East Timor independence unrest, the 2004 Asian tsunami, and the 2009, 2010, and 2014 Bangkok political protests.

In 1995 he was a Walkley Award finalist, the highest awards in Australian journalism, for his coverage of the 1995 Zaire (now Democratic Republic of Congo) Ebola outbreak.

Prior to AEC News Today he was the deputy editor and Thailand and Greater Mekong Sub-region editor for The Establishment Post, predecessor of Asean Today.

In the mid-80s and early 90s he owned JLF Promotions, the largest above and below the line marketing and PR firm servicing the high-technology industry in Australia. It was sold in 1995.

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