CHIANG MAI – Immigration officials detained 11 foreigners at a co-working space in Chiang Mai Wednesday morning, acting on a tip-off about illegal workers.
Flanked by six uniformed soldiers, the officials arrived unannounced at Punspace at 10am, taking pictures and demanding information about the business, witnesses said.
Immigration officials said they’d received a tip-off that Punspace was employing foreigners illegally. Punspace has three employees who are all Thai citizens, according to co-owner Euam Pichaya, and it does not sponsor foreigners for Thai visas.
“The soldiers asked ‘what are these farang (foreigners) doing here?’ They didn’t know what we are,” said one Punspace employee.
Christina Canters, an online business consultant from Melbourne, was among those questioned. Like many of who work from the co-working space, she is in Thailand on a tourist visa.
“The immigration people thought we were working for Punspace. Because that’s what it looks like from the outside, it looks like an office, and essentially it is,” she said.
Canters says she ignored the officials and soldiers initially, until everyone was asked for their passports. Those that couldn’t produce one were asked to board a van and accompany the officials to Chiang Mai’s immigration office. One of the foreigners with an education visa, issued to those studying at a language school, was quizzed on his Thai. After more than an hour, Canters says those with passports were rounded up as well – taking everyone working at Punspace except for the Thai employees.
One of those questioned was Johnny FD, from San Francisco, who has been living in Thailand on-and-off for about a year. He blogs about Muay Thai training camps and produces a weekly podcast interviewing entrepreneur ‘digital nomads’.
“They were asking really random questions, like which Muay Thai gym I go to, and how many farang [foreigners] go there,” Johnny said.
An immigration official refused to answer questions about the raid, but confirmed they were monitoring places like Punspace “with lots of farang” as part of an ongoing investigation.
The Punspace members were all released from the immigration office by around 3pm, after officials verified none of the 11 had overstayed their visas, been blacklisted or were working illegally.