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BANGKOK – Thailand has long been an attractive destination for Western expats looking for a better quality of life. But the revival of an arcane immigration law has angered the expat community. Getting them questioning their freedoms in Thailand, as the BBC reports in Bangkok.
“I’ve been made to feel as if I’m not welcome here,” says Zareeka Gardner, a 25-year-old English teacher from the USA.
Since arriving in Thailand in April, she has racked up immigration fines totaling 12,400 baht (£330). A large part of that is because her apartment manager failed to file a TM30 form saying where she was staying.
Thailand’s Immigration Act contains a clause requiring all foreigners to let the authorities know where they’re staying at all times.
Previously this job has been done by hotels collecting guest’s details, or it was just ignored. But as of March, the government has been applying the law without compromise or exception.
Landlords must notify immigration authorities whenever a foreigner returns home after spending more than 24 hours away from their permanent residence. Be it a trip abroad or even leaving their province of residence. The same applies to foreigners married to Thais. Their Thai spouse, if they own the house, must file the TM30 report.
The form, known as a TM30, must be submitted within 24 hours of the foreigner’s arrival or the property owner will be fined. If the fine isn’t paid, the foreigner will be unable to renew their visa or other permits until that’s rectified.
Some say Thailand’s TM 30 Immigration Form is Too Much
The process has provoked confusion and consternation across Thailand, prompting caustic cartoons from local newspapers and outrage on social media.
Expats have complained of inconsistencies between provincial authorities, and of landlords failing or refusing to fulfill their responsibilities. Leaving tenants (Foreigners) to pay the fine or risk losing their right to stay in Thailand.
There is an app and a website for the form, but many users have complained of trouble gaining access. So they have to visit immigration offices, which can be an all-day affair.
Sebastian Brousseau, CEO of Isaan Lawyers says he was inundated with questions after the law started being applied. He says the law is regressive.
“I have clients that were in Thailand before, that are leaving Thailand because they feel unwelcome,” he says.
Foreigners residing in Thailand must already must report to immigration every 90 days, an order known as TM47. Only those with permanent residency or a special visa are exempt from this and other orders.
“Already they felt it was a burden to fill in the TM47 and now with the TM30, for them, it’s too much,” said Brousseau.
He has now launched an online petition calling on the government to scrap the law. The petition has gathered nearly 6,000 signatures. It’s not just foreigners who are finding the mounting bureaucracy bothersome.
Suchada Phoisaat, a journalist and entrepreneur, lost a day’s work doing the TM30 on her husband’s behalf at the immigration department.
“There were long queues – it was annoying. If foreigners or Thais have to do this, we just ask for a proper system to help us save time.”
Thailand’s TM30 Form is Outlined in the Outdated 1979 Immigration Act
The immigration law was introduced in 1979, when Thailand was trying to keep track of an influx of Vietnamese and Cambodian refugees.
Just why the government is enforcing the law now remains unclear since official reasons are flimsy.
Still haunted by the major terrorist attack in Bangkok of 2015. The government says it will help strengthen national security while protecting law-abiding foreigners. “Good guys in, Bad guys out,” is its slogan.
Yet by responding to criticism with ways to shortcut the registration process, the government has often undermined its own argument. Along with that of it forcing rogue landlords to declare their earnings. Such holes have left foreigners cynical.
Zareeka Gardner says she feels defeated by the system.
Coming from the bureaucracy of China, she felt Thailand would be an easier place to live. But she has been lost in a thicket of vague and contradictory information. Without help from her teaching agency, her perception soon changed.
Still without a work permit and hounded about it daily by officials, she has had enough and booked a flight back to China.
The growing number of cases like Zareeka’s comes at a worrying time for businesses heavily dependent on foreign money.
Thailand’s economy is already struggling, growing at its slowest rate in nearly five years.
Speaking Thailand’s Foreign Correspondent’s Club, the immigration department conceded there had been problems with filling the TM30 forms online. But once addressed, the process should run smoothly, the spokesperson said.
But for foreigners like Zareeka, they’re wondering if it’s worth waiting.
“Sure, it’s nice here, but with all the hoops we have to go through, is it really worth it?” she said.