Cambodian Labour Migrants in Thailand: IOM Study

Date Publish: 
Friday, June 28, 2019

28/06/2019 - Labour migration to Thailand has a significant impact on the socioeconomic wellbeing of Cambodian migrants and their families, according to a new study conducted by IOM and Chulalongkorn University’s Asian Research Centre for Migration (ARCM).

Assessing Potential Changes in the Migration Patterns of Cambodian Migrants and their Impacts on Thailand and Cambodia” investigates the situation of the estimated 650,000 Cambodians who work in Thailand and is among the most comprehensive research studies ever conducted on this often poorly-understood group.

It surveyed over 900 Cambodian migrant workers in six Thai provinces and interviewed some 122 key stakeholders including government officials, employers and NGO staff using quantitative and qualitative methods.

Most Cambodian migrants in Thailand were relatively poor before they migrated and chose to leave because of better job opportunities and higher wages across the border. The majority now work in relatively low-wage jobs concentrated in labour-intensive economic sectors including agriculture, construction, fishing and manufacturing.

While 97 percent of Cambodian migrants reported that their working conditions were “good” or “satisfactory,” the study found that one third of those surveyed received less than the minimum wage of the Thai province in which they worked. Documented migrants received higher wages than those who worked on a day pass and those who were undocumented.

Despite their low wages, Cambodian migrants remit an average of THB 39,312 (USD 1,228) per year and interviewees said that remittances are crucial in maintaining or improving the living conditions of their families back in Cambodia.

They also reported other benefits from migration, including increased savings and developing new skills, which they expected would help them to find better jobs with higher wages both in Thailand and Cambodia.

Despite Thai labour migration regulations making no provision for family migration, Cambodian migrants tend to migrate with their spouses. Three-quarters of respondents were married and 85 per cent of those were living with their spouse in Thailand. Over half of the respondents had children, but their children were often left behind with relatives in Cambodia.

In addition, Cambodian migrants tend to re-migrate to Thailand several times. Almost three-quarters of respondents had worked in Thailand previously. Although most planned to eventually return to Cambodia, few had any intention to do so soon, often preferring to stay six years or more before eventually returning home.

The report concludes with tailored recommendations for the Thai and Cambodian governments, and development partners, to create evidence-based policies, strategies and interventions to maximize the developmental benefits of safe, orderly and regular migration.

“For over five decades, Cambodian workers have migrated to Thailand in high numbers for employment, contributing to Thailand's economy and playing a critical role in filling labour shortages in key economic sectors. This study acts as a good starting point for all migration practitioners to better understand the nature of Cambodian migration to Thailand,” said IOM project manager Nathan Webb, who oversaw the report.

The study, which was funded by the IOM Development Fund, builds on the success of two previous IOM reports on Lao and Myanmar migrants in Thailand, also in collaboration with Chulalongkorn University. These were: “Assessing the Potential Changes in the Migration Pattern of Laotian Migrants and Their Impacts on Thailand and Lao People’s Democratic Republic” (2016) and “Assessing Potential Changes in the Migration Patterns of Myanmar Migrants and their Impacts on Thailand” (2013).

The publication is available for download here.

For further information, please contact please contact IOM Thailand. Nathan Webb, Email:, Tel: +66 2 343 9383 or Reuben Lim, Email:, Tel: +66 2 343 9370.