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Chiang Mai Charging Foreigners ฿3,000 for ฿35 Covid Test to Renew Visas

A World Vision Foundation staff member conducts COVID-19 test on Myint Myint Win at a migrant workers’ camp. (Photo: World Health Organization)
A World Vision Foundation staff member conducts COVID-19 test on Myint Myint Win at a migrant workers’ camp. (Photo: World Health Organization)

Double pricing is nothing new to foreigners in Thailand, but 3,000 baht for a 35-baht coronavirus antigen test kit is extreme, by even Siamese standards.

Yet that’s apparently the going rate for an ATK if you’re a migrant worker trying to enter Thailand to work in Chiang Mai.

Rights activists are accusing Thai authorities of price gouging on ATKs in what they say is a clear case of profiteering and discrimination.

Migrants who wish to work in Thailand or continue doing so are required by law to undertake a Covid-19 test, but the price of the test in the northern province, a hub of migrants from Myanmar, has been set at 3,000 baht.

In addition, migrants are required to pay for health exams, insurance and various other fees involved in obtaining an identification card and work permit.

These additional expenses amount to more than 9,000 baht, which is well beyond the means of migrants working for the minimum wage of 300 baht or less a day, rights advocates say.

Migrants with children are further required to another 3,000 baht per child for mandatory coronavirus tests in addition to other administrative fees.

“When I went to immigration to extend my visa, they said I needed to have a Covid-19 medical certificate [without which] I couldn’t extend my visa,” an ethnic Shan migrant worker from Myanmar said.

“[My Thai] broker said I didn’t need to test and if I paid 3,500 baht they would extend my visa. I gave in and paid the 3,500 baht,” she added.

Up to 5 million migrant workers, the vast majority of them from Myanmar, Laos and Cambodia, work in Thailand, but since the beginning of the pandemic in early 2020 many have fallen on hard times with long spells of unemployment.

As a result, these migrants have suffered financially and faced various forms of discrimination in Thailand, rights advocates say.

“It seems to me that the government’s policymakers treat workers as if they were a problem, a group that needs to be tightly regulated and forced to obey,” Sai Tip Awan, who works with the Human Rights and Development Foundation in Chiang Mai, told a Thai online newspaper dedicated to rights issues.

“And to stay here, migrant workers have to pay two to three times what tourists and foreign nationals holding Non-O or Non-B visas do,” he added, referring to expatriates with special visas.

Among migrant workers, the most economically disadvantaged are unable to pay 3,000 baht for a Covid-19 test to allow them to resume working legally, according to the Migrant Working Group.

“There is this person bedridden from a car accident. He has no money to pay a broker. His wife is not working either and they have two children,” a staffer at the group said, citing a specific case.

“He can’t extend his visa because he needs to get a Covid-19 test at the hospital and he doesn’t have any money.”

Complicating matters for migrants is that brokers who find jobs for them often take advantage of impoverished people desperate for work by charging them large amounts.

The sums tend to range from 17,000 baht to 25,000 baht, which often causes migrants to become heavily indebted before they have even started working and receiving salaries.

The original version of this story appears in UCA News a Bangkok Herald partner.