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Friday, July 18, 2014

Thailand Immigration Gets Tough

Foreigners who exit Thailand to extend their visa-free stay will not be allowed to re-enter the country at airports and land checkpoints, effective 12 August. A ban on the out/in trips has already been effective since last month at land checkpoints, but on 12 August it will extend to all modes of transport; air, land and sea. The out/in trips allow foreigners to extend their visa-free stay in Thailand by simply stamping their passport at a border checkpoint.
Many do it to avoid having to apply for a 60-day tourist visa or the 90-day non-immigrant visa, the basic visa that allows them to apply for a work permit. Thailand’s Immigration Bureau confirmed it would strictly apply  the law, effective 12 August, which will end the practice of  border  runs for many foreigners who reside in Thailand to seek work. The practice is incorrectly called “visa-runs” by some media channels, but in fact it is really about exploiting a loophole to allow them to stay in Thailand without the need to apply for a visa.

Foreigners visit overland checkpoints that are close by such as Aranyaphrathet at the border with Cambodia, around 200 km east of Bangkok, or the far north border at Mae Sai, just 80 km from Chiang Rai town. When officials adopt the policy at airports  it could cause considerable expense for airlines that are legally forced to fly the traveller back to the place they embarked on the aircraft. Some travellers may decide to get a new passport with no previous Thailand entry and exit stamps to start a clean slate.

But the immigration bureau is making this move knowing it has the capability to check every foreigner’s travel history in the country. The ability to track and crackdown on offenders is based on a technology  upgrade that has  linked all airport and overland checkpoints to a national database  so online checks can be made at  border checkpoints  to show the travellers previous trips and profile.

The crackdown should not impact on genuine tourists, but it will force visitors who want to stay much longer in the country to apply for a tourist visa, rather than rely on repeated visa-free entries. It could technically cause some inconvenience to travellers who use Thailand as holiday base to visit neighbouring countries. They may stay in Thailand for 15 days tour the main destinations and then take a trip to Myanmar for a week before returning to Bangkok for a final round of shopping and entertainment before they return home.

In this case, showing return ticket to their home country and details of their trips and bookings in Thailand and neighbouring countries should be enough to convince immigration officials they are not stamp collectors exploiting visa-free privileges. Border runners are those who leave Thailand and return immediately for the purpose of extending their stay. By exploiting visa exemptions, or the extensions allowed on a 60-day tourist visa, many foreigners can work illegally in language schools, or restaurants and other businesses for months or years.

It is easier for some to get jobs this way, as some employers do not want to go through the complicated process of seeking work permits and like to avoid the expense involved. The tourism business is not immune to this practice as many people working as guides, or working for travel related companies, even hotels, do not have work permits or the appropriate visa to start the process.

The Immigration Bureau website said: “Leniency will be granted until 12 August, but only for passengers arriving by air. Foreigners who come to Thailand must seek a proper visa in line with the purpose of their intended stay here.” Now, those on a visa run who are allowed back in will find an “O-I” (Out-In) mark next to their latest entry stamp. From 13 August, nobody with an O-I sign on their passport will be allowed to re-enter Thailand if they cannot produce a proper visa.

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