The military government that took over on 22nd May, 2014 has set itself the task, it seems, of changing Thailand. They haven’t so much changed the law as gone about trying to enforce laws that have been on the statute books for a long time.
For those expats living in Sukhumvit and elsewhere in the Kingdom there has never been such a strong motivation to ‘go legal’. Thailand used to be famous for its informal attitude to its laws. In the 1980s Bangkok was notorious for its opium dens and under-age prostitution. That has largely gone. Nobody smokes weed in Khaosan anymore.
Now in 2014 the authorities are determined to remove the many foreigners who are living in Thailand while pretending to be either tourists or students. While many Thais felt that foreigners were moving in on certain sectors of the job market, many profited from providing ‘visa run’ services. This is when a foreigner has to cross a border in order to renew a visa.
It has always been the law that tourist visas are for tourists not for those living and working in Thailand. Immigration officers and those working in Thai consulates would often grimace and be difficult when issuing new visas but not a barrier to foreigners managing to stay in Thailand illegally.
The junta seems determined to stop this practice. Anyone entering Thailand by land or air with back-to-back visas in their passport will be questioned to determine whether they are really tourists. If they enter on a tourist visa the burden of proof will be on the foreigner to produce evidence such as onward ticket etc. to show they are really a tourist. Those entering on an education visa will be asked questions in Thai to see if they have really learnt any Thai.
Tour companies, dive schools and English schools are the main professions in Thailand which used the laxness of visa law enforcement to get cheap workers. It is hard to find Thai tour guides who speak Korean or Russian and so many have been employed illegally. Not enough Thais are dive instructors and even fewer can speak French, English, and Japanese etc. The same is true for English teachers – the best teachers have English as their native tongue.
Stopping these workers leaving and re-entering Thailand will destroy many businesses.
Few dive schools, tour companies and English schools have the capital to sponsor foreigners to get work visas as this means employing several Thais to each foreigner and paying tax.
Those that can go legit will have to raise their prices but will also have less competition.
Those people who have bought a lease on a bar and are working in their bar will have to either get married, go legit or leave. Those making an online income will have to get a retirement visa or move to Cambodia.
If you are living and working illegally in Sukhumvit we advise you to leave. If you are caught over staying more than 90 days from mid-August you are liable to do between 1 and 10 years in prison, as well as being blacklisted from entry to Thailand.
Legal practices and academic observers see the new enforcement policy of Thai law as not being like crack downs in the past. They mean business. Since it is a fair bet that the present junta will make sure the next elections return a government sympathetic to their cause, there is little hope things will go back to normal next year.
Just recently the government declared Chinese and Taiwanese will have visa fees waivered for 3 months. It is clear that short-stay, high paying tourists are welcome; foreigners eking a living in Thailand are not.