Burma's recent opening to foreign investment apparently has not stemmed flow of its migrant workers into neighbouring Thailand.
Local workforce brokerage manager Thanadech "Noom" Supasuwan estimates 60,000 to 70,000 Burmese migrants live and work in Phuket Province legally. He believes the number of documented Burmese migrants has largely held steady. Noom places Burmese workers with proper papers into hotel, construction and domestic service jobs.
He forecasts the market will remain about the same for the next few years, because unskilled Burmese workers still can earn five times as much in menial jobs in Thailand than they can back home, and there's a high demand on Phuket for such a labour force.
"There are also many unregistered migrants who used the island as temporary transit point, with more arriving every day … But I think the number of legally registered workers on Phuket is higher than the number of illegals," Noom told Khabar Southeast Asia.
Last year, his agency processed 3,000 work permit applications for Burmese workers.
Earning $9 a day
Among Phuket's documented Burmese workers is 41-year-old Zaw, who has lived in Thailand for 21 years.
Zaw belongs to a group of 10 Burmese maintenance crew workers at popular Toh She Hill restaurant Green Forest, located just outside Phuket town. He makes the minimum wage of 300 baht ($9.12) per day, but gets free room and board. He has a child who lives in Ranong province, a four-hour bus ride north.
"During my years here I have gone home three times for short stays, five to ten days. But I will definitely go home for good soon, hopefully next year," Zaw said, adding he was excited about Burma's recent developments.
In one ramshackle workers' camp in Phuket province, some 20 ethnic Mon Burmese live there. When Khabar visited, only women and children were home. The men were out working at a construction site.
"I was born here. I went to school for a little while, but now I am finished," said ten-year-old Ong in Thai. "There are three children living here. We drink well water. We can live here, but we would like to go home," he told Khabar.
His mother Eed, said she wanted to return to her family in Monland. But she cannot.
"It would cost about 10,000 baht ($304) per person and we can't afford that," she said.