Setha Ses, nickname Den and now 32, was born into a large family of modest means and brought up in Cambodia’s Koh Kong province. Ten years ago, he joined a traditionally long line of Cambodian nationals seeking better job opportunities in Thailand. With good English and Thai proficiency, he found a job as front-desk receptionist in a Pattaya guest house, later transferring to a popular city pharmacy where he picked up basic knowledge of Russian and Chinese from the many international customers trying to fix their aches and pains.
In 2017, the Cambodian and Thai governments signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) to determine the employment conditions of guest workers from Cambodia, Myanmar and Laos. Den noticed that the Pattaya headquarters of the Foreign Workers Employment Agency, responsible for registration and award of labor permits, was nearby in Jomtien Soi 5 and adjacent to the immigration bureau. He was appointed as an administration assistant and quickly mastered the documentary registration procedures which are required for Department of Employment pink cards which guarantee rights such as access to the Thai public health system.
Noticing Den’s grasp of languages, the management of the legal and visa services office quickly diversified his role into helping expats and foreign tourists of all nationalities. He became an expert in those perennial questions such as “how many photos?”, “how many extra days can I have?” and “what photocopies do I need?” He quickly diversified too into driving licenses for foreigners which require a certificate of residence from immigration as part of the application process. “It’s just a question of helping people out if they feel they need it,” he says. “Our company also has a driving school where much of the preparation can be done, rather than joining several queues at the transportation department.”
Since the Thai authorities once again allowed visa-runs several months ago, Den has a new area of responsibility to share with colleagues – the one-day minibus trips to the Cambodian border at Pong Nam Ron (Hot Water Spring) which permit most foreign nationals to extend their vacations in Thailand. “We have to see the passports first and register travellers in advance as not everyone can take advantage.” Indians and Chinese are amongst the nationalities not able to do land border runs at present.
Jessataporn Bunnag, director of the V2B international law office which employs over 40 staff in several businesses, said, “Contrary to common belief, not all guest workers from neighboring countries are laborers or manual workers. Den is a good example of someone who has progressed in a very different employment area.” As Thailand recovers from the pandemic era, there is a growing need for immigrant workers across the board as the country’s shrinking birth rate means there is a growing shortage of Thai personnel in many sectors of the economy.