Thailand May Gain From Virus-Led Migration: Central Bank Study

The massive labor migration Thailand experienced during the first wave of Covid infections last year may present an opportunity to modernize the country’s agricultural sector and develop outlying regions of the country, according to a Bank of Thailand study.

“This is a rare opportunity for such a big migration of modern workers, who have knowledge and technology, to return to their hometowns,” Saovanee Chantapong of the Bank of Thailand’s Macroeconomics Department and Warit Tassanasunthornwong of Thammasart University wrote in a report published on the central bank’s website Tuesday. “They will be a key driving force to create value added for the agricultural sector, as well as develop agricultural and health tourism.”

Around 2 million people left Bangkok and big tourist cities to return to their hometowns between February and April last year, according to mobile phone data from True Corp., Thailand’s second-largest operator. That compares with average net labor migration of 600,000-800,000 people per year.

The return of younger people to rural areas may be an unexpected benefit of the pandemic for Thailand, where the tourism-reliant economy suffered its deepest contraction in more than two decades last year. The government should provide training and resources to help these migrants develop rural areas, the researchers contend.

Around 80% of the migrants were of working age, and half are low-income earners. They probably got fired from their jobs or saw their working hours cut until they couldn’t afford to live in the city, according to the research. The study notes that the researchers’ views don’t necessarily reflect the Bank of Thailand’s policies.

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