On May 1, 1998, Thai authorizes began to search for undocumented foreign workers. A detention center was established in Bangkok to deal with the expected detention and repatriation of the estimated 300,000 illegal workers in the region; some 200,000 foreigners were deported between January 1 and April 30, 1998.
However, 1,800 Thai businesses petitioned the government to permit them to hire 100,000 foreign workers for 18 types of jobs that they cannot fill with Thais, including farm work, fishing and related industries, water transport, industrial sewing, rice milling, cold storage, ice making, salt farming and general labor.
The government responded by permitting foreigners without work permits to work temporarily in Thailand's 13 border provinces and 22 interior provinces in fisheries. At the request of their employers, illegal workers can receive one-year permits.
This exemption from the crackdown on foreign workers without documents is leading to confusion; employers in other sectors are asking for similar reprieves. For example, Thai rice mills asked for permission to employ foreigners until July 10, 1998, rather than the June 1, 1998 deadline, arguing that Thai export earnings might fall if illegal Burmese workers were deported. Rice millers said 70 to 80 percent of 1,200 mills in Thailand might have to close if the government insisted on deporting all illegal workers; the mills hire 20,000 foreign workers.
Almost five percent of the 32 million Thai workers are unemployed. Many of the Thais laid off from urban jobs are returning to their rural homes, but few are expected to become farmers again.
"Authorities begin crackdown on illegal immigrants," BBC, May 4, 1998.