Maximum stay of 90 days for foreigners
By Chatrudee Theparat
Visa-on-arrival (VOA) regulations will be tightened for nationals of 41 countries to prevent abuse of the privilege and curb the rising number of illegal entries, according to the Immigration Police Bureau (IPB). Foreign nationals from those countries, including the US, China and India, will be able to stay longer but with fewer chances of renewing the VOA.
IPB commissioner Suwat Tumrongsiskul said nationals from those specific countries are currently allowed to remain in Thailand for 15 days maximum after the VOA is granted. The VOA is normally renewable once.
However, some foreigners including tourists ''tiptoe around the law'' by resorting to so-called visa runs to extend their stay. Most take a bus to a border, check out of the country and then return the same day to have the VOA renewed.
They repeat the practice as many times as they wish, affording them almost unlimited stay in the country. The policy is largely intended to serve tourism.
Pol Lt-Gen Suwat said the change of the VOA rules is in order.
In future, foreigners from those 41 countries will be able to stay in the country for 30 days from the first VOA stamp, which will be renewable twice at most, each time for a maximum of 30 days. In other words, a foreigner will be permitted to remain in Thailand for no longer than 90 days in total after three VOA stamps.
The commissioner said the current system is prone to abuse as many foreign nationals make numerous visa runs so they can stay on long term to do business. In some cases, they have gone unregulated, causing social problems.
Official figures showed that about 400,000 Chinese nationals were granted a VOA last year, and 18,000 of them have stayed behind.
Around 200,000 Indians made VOA visits last year and it was found that 16,000 of them have not left.
Pol Lt-Gen Suwat said the new VOA rules will be put into effect once approved by the Royal Thai Police Office.
He said more information technology will be employed in the blacklisting system. The IT-operated immigration clearance system is now in use at 15 out of 55 checkpoints nationwide to check in tourists and screen out undesirable individuals. The technology lets the bureau enlarge its database of foreign visitors to identify those on the blacklist and expel them.
Pol Col Ittipol Ittisarnronnachai, head of the Pattaya immigration centre, said its IT-operated database is shared by many hotels and resorts in Pattaya to help track down blacklisted people. The technology has been credited with weakening the local mafia network.
The Betong immigration centre in Yala is also using the system to trace people of dual nationality, some of whom are believed to be behind the southern strife.
Pol Lt-Gen Suwat said more authority to issue visas will be delegated to regional IPB offices.
At present, IPB chief inspectors are authorised to grant visas, and in future their deputies will also be able to approve visa requests