Complying with Thailand’s strict enforcement of long-overlooked rules for resident foreigners is “not that hard,” top immigration officials said Thursday night.
Addressing an issue driving many expats afroth since decades-old reporting rules recently came into force, top brass told an incredulous crowd at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Thailand that complying with the rules took only “five minutes,” despite numerous anecdotes to the contrary.
“It’s not that hard, and we try to make things easy,” said Col. Thatchapong Sarawannangkul, the superintendent of an immigration police subdivision covering metro Bangkok. “Trust me, it’s not that hard.”
The sudden and ardent enforcement of rules on the books for four decades have been roiling expat circles for months. Though they involve a host of byzantine requirements, chief among them that all landlords, homeowners or registered heads of household must report all foreigners’ comings and goings.
Find all episodes of The Coconuts Podcast
Some foreigners have reported their visas being held up or fines being assessed due to their landlords inability or refusal to make the report.
An expat lawyer living as a permanent resident in Isaan and a well-known travel blogger called for “clarity and consistency” in the rules.
“It’s Thai law, and as a guest in this country, I’m going to obey the law the best I can,” Richard Barrow said. “What I’m asking for is clarity and consistency.”
Barrow likened recent developments to the kingdom shooting itself in the foot by enforcing what are seen by many as onerous requirements.
Sebastian Brousseau, the attorney, acknowledged his role in a website and petition calling for the abolition of the TM30 requirement that previously only required hotels to notify immigration that foreigners had taken up lodging.
Brousseau said foreigners “are leaving Thailand because they feel unwelcome.”
He cited examples such as someone living in Khon Kaen and going to Kalasin to visit friends overnight, who would have to notify immigration upon their arrival and their return back home.
“It’s kind of like a lot,” he said.
Penrurk Phetmani, an immigration attorney with an international law firm, noted that the rules were being unevenly enforced, with those processing business visas through the Board of Investment excluded from the new-old requirements.
Pressed by moderator Dominic Faulder to explain the timing of the changes – with no apparent degradation of security conditions – the top regional immigration official cited terrorism.
“A couple years ago, we had many cases happen in Thailand. … Terrorists were coming to Thailand making some things not good happen,” said first immigration division commander Maj. Gen. Patipat Suban Na Ayudhya.
In fact, Barrow cited the suspected 2015 Erawan Shrine bombers languishing in the judicial system as an example of the need to keep tabs on travelers — despite the fact they only crime they’ve admitted to was entering the kingdom illegally, meaning they never registered with the authorities.
It was a near-capacity crowd that assembled at the club to hear answers, as perhaps no other issue has invited such interest, whether on the suppression of Thai political rights, endemic gender violence or genocide of Myanmar’s Rohingya population. But few issues have struck so close to home for its usual crowd, who overwhelmingly trend older, white and male.
The biggest disconnect posed by the official response were claims that systems put in place to streamline the reporting were speedy and efficient – or worked at all.
Despite numerous anecdotes of people queuing hours to report their whereabouts to distant immigration offices, Thatchapong said there was no need.
“We are entering the Thailand 4.0 era,” he said. “You can use the app, you don’t have to come to the office.”
In fact, the system just doesn’t work. As several speakers noted, it has been taking upward of six weeks just to get receipt of a password to use the new electronic reporting system.
“They should have got that sorted first before they started requiring it,” Barrow said, to the room’s applause.
Subscribe to The Coconuts Podcast for top trending news and pop culture from Southeast Asia and Hong Kong every Friday!