Uncontrolled Migration in The Land of Smiles
Expat retirees went in to a frenzy this week after a news report broke of a new visa option which some misinterpreted as what many have long dreaded, Thailand Immigration would be tightening up on the requirements for a retirement visa. Many feared their stay in the Land of Smiles might be coming to an abrupt end. This paranoia was a false alarm, but at the same time it was a reminder for all foreigners in Thailand that other than the few who have residency or citizenship, there are no guarantees that you can stay indefinitely.
The so-called recent visa crackdown is anything but recent and can be traced back to 2006 when an American teacher in Bangkok, John Mark Karr, was arrested and extradited to the United States to face charges over the 1996 killing of a child beauty queen.
Karr’s arrest resulted in a media storm. Foreign teachers in Thailand found themselves under greater scrutiny and the requirements for foreigners teaching in Thailand were tightened up.
With Karr’s arrest came the realisation that a lot of foreigners were essentially residing long-term in Thailand on visas designed for short-term stays. The government would crack down and each year requirements were tightened and loopholes closed.
A limit on the amount of time you could spend in the country on visa waivers was introduced, but would later be rescinded.
Some consulates were once known to be a soft touch. Those that became known for issuing visas to anyone with a valid passport lost the right to issue certain types of visas.
The days of some Thai
visa mills language institutes basing their advertising – indeed their whole business model – around getting students a long-stay visa are over as the Immigration Department cracked down on education visas and all but eliminating what was the easy option of staying in Thailand year after year. Thousands signed up for a language school solely because they wanted the benefits of an education visa – but they never attended class. When Immigration interviewed these so-called language students when they went for a visa extension and found they could not speak more than a few words of Thai, the racket came to an end.
A surprising number of people stayed for years by making monthly border runs. Every month they took a trip to a neighbouring country – often on a visa run company bus – crossed the border, entered the neighbouring country before turning around and coming straight back – all so they could get another 30 days permission to stay in Thailand. The Immigration Department put a stop to that and the computer system now flags anyone who spends a certain amount of time in the country on visa waiver stamps.
Double- and triple-entry tourist visas have been abolished, replaced with a multiple-entry tourist visa which has much more stringent requirements – and most embassies will only issue it to the those who live in that country or are legally resident there, eliminating the ease with which many foreigners residing in Thailand travelled to a neighbouring country and applied for a tourist visa there. Now they have to fly all the way home to get such a visa and even then it’s no certainty that it will be issued.
The requirements for the holy grail of visas, the multiple-entry business visa, are exhaustive and few find they can meet those requirements these days – just as few embassies issue them. And the old trick of applying for a multiple-entry non-immigrant O visa for the supposed reason of visiting friends or family in Thailand has been all but eliminated.
The one visa that has not been cracked down on yet is the retirement visa, a class of visa widely abused by those who don’t have the required funds. To get around that, they make a false representation at their embassy which then issues them with a statutory declaration saying that they have a monthly income of 65,000 baht or more. This document is presented to Immigration at their annual visa renewal to qualify for said visa.
The frenzy this past week amongst foreign retirees in Thailand comes on the back of the Immigration Department’s English language slogan of “good guys in, bad guys out”. Many retirees appear not to have noticed that their visa is a non-immigrant class i.e. it is NOT for someone emigrating to Thailand or moving there permanently. It does not guarantee you can continue to reside in the country indefinitely. This should be no surprise given that retirees have to renew their visa (technically, it is not a visa, but an extension of stay) at their local Immigration office annually. Unless you have permanent residency or citizenship, your stay in Thailand – irrespective of its length, and irrespective of the ties you may have with the country, be they perceived or otherwise – is, in the eyes of the Thai government, temporary.
While it may seem like visa options are running out, there remain two easy ways of staying in Thailand indefinitely.
Marrying a Thai citizen allows you to apply for an extension of stay based on marriage. In what is something of an anomaly (and as such I would expect this to be something they look at soon), the financial requirements for someone applying for a marriage visa are half of that for a retirement visa. It makes no sense given that many foreign husbands support their Thai wife. I would not be surprised if the authorities chose to substantially increase the financial requirements for this visa to be issued.
The other option for any foreigner who wishes to remain in Thailand hassle-free is to buy the Elite card. There are various options with the most affordable costing 500,000 baht. That gets the cardholder a 5-year visa which if used correctly allows one to stay for almost 6 years in Thailand. Defraying the cost of that period of time, it works out at around $2,500 per year to remain in Thailand without the need to make any visa runs or to renew / extend the visa annually. Given the amount of time and money some spend on visa runs, this is a decent option.
So why is the government cracking down on foreigners living in the country? Surely the money all these foreigners bring in to the country makes them a welcome addition? Many retirees think not one of them is expendable and the entire Thai economy would collapse if any one of them was told they could not stay.
I think part of it comes back to the reputation of foreigners in Thailand. Thailand has never attracted the best of the West. There are good folks but there’s a lot of ratbags too – and the latter are often the most visible. Many Thais give the impression that they are happy for foreigners to visit but would be just as happy if we did not stick around too long.
Probably the biggest story of the year regarding foreigners resident in Thailand was that of the 3 Americans arrested after police served a search warrant on a property where a dismembered body was found in a freezer. What did that do for the reputation of foreigners in Thailand?
And what about this story from the past week featuring a European on the rampage in Sin City. Pattaya news items featuring foreigners don’t tend to make the national news but this one did – and those fantastic images of this mad man who looks like he stepped off the set of a horror movie aren’t going to do anything positive for the reputation of foreigners in Thailand.
A few years ago I wrote about how some Thais had become frustrated at the way foreigners were driving up the prices of affordable accommodation in Bangkok. In areas that used to be the end of the skytrain line like Prakanong and Onut, you could once get a basic room in some reasonable buildings for around 4,000 baht / month. As these areas become popular with foreigners who did not want to live more beyond the reach of the skytrain, they were willing to pay a premium to live there, outbidding the Thais. In some buildings rent rates jumped from 4,000 to almost 10,000 baht per month in just a few years as foreigners drove up prices, and put them out of reach of the everyday Thais who traditionally lived in such buildings. Some Thais saw foreigners as having a negative effect on their own lives.
Much of the immigration in Thailand is uncontrolled and there are no quotas, for example, on the number of foreigners who can retire to Thailand.
Uncontrolled migration is something many in developed countries are unhappy about and it was a major factor in the UK voting in favour of Brexit and the US voting to elect Donald Trump as president. All around the world people are becoming fed up with what they see as uncontrolled migration. With Thailand attracting so many foreigners, is it really so hard to see why the Thais might feel the same way – especially when you see some of the foreigners who call Thailand home?
I find it highly amusing that those who cite one of the major reasons for leaving their homeland was the influx of foreigners who make little or no effort to assimilate, who speak a different language to them and make zero effort to learn the local language, who behave badly in public and who are considered disrespectful towards local women. Are foreigners in Thailand any different?
If Thailand wants to get serious about the quality of foreigners residing in the country they should copy what Western countries do. Any foreigner applying for a long-stay visa should have to produce a clean criminal record from their homeland. Thai Immigration law prohibits entry to those who have done time in their homeland – but checks aren’t made. If Thailand was to introduce a criminal record check, I believe the number of foreigners residing in Thailand would drop a little and importantly, the quality would go up. It’d be a win : win for both Thailand and the expat community. That would be a good place to start.
At the same time there is a compelling reason why Thailand should open the border up, make things easy and encourage immigration.
Thailand has an ageing population and a very low birth rate. While many foreigners point to the short-term economic advantages of residing in the country, it is the long-term economic ramifications of a population decrease that Thailand ought to consider.
While migration can bring great social and economic benefits – and migration along with free trade are two of the biggest contributors to increased prosperity – uncontrolled migration is not without its challenges. Throw in a healthy dose of nationalism and it’s not hard to see why Thailand has tightened up the enforcement of visa rules in recent years.
Where was this photo taken?
Last week’s photo was taken inside Dollhouse in Soi Cowboy and was super easy – if you looked closely you could see Dollhouse written on the walls and on one of the girl’s shorts!
Stick’s Email Inbox – (These are emails from readers and what is written here was not written by Stick.) Preference may be given to emails which refer to the previous week’s column.
Email of the week – meeting Thai women.
I still think the exceptions are very much the rule.
Refused entry at Titanium.
I went to Titanium on Monday night and was shown to a table by an employee. I purchased a beer and she joined me and chatted. She was then joined by another lady and I agreed to buy them both a drink. Whilst they went away to get their drinks, I felt the place had gone stale and the band was tired. I had been a regular visitor to the bar for around 8 years and have introduced many of my UK friends to the bar. After the girls returned with their drinks, we sat chatting and our table was frequented by another lady who I believe was the mamasan. I purchased 3 ladies drinks each for the 2 ladies and I had 3 Heinekens. Each time I had to sign a paper, presumably to register what I was buying. When I came to leave I was presented with a bill in Thai for what appeared to be 15 drinks. I protested in a firm but friendly way, not wishing to cause a scene. Of course, they never produced the tickets I had signed. I paid up and left feeling angry and ripped off. My guess is that the mamasan felt I was happy to buy her a drink as well which I had not agreed to. As I like my history in the bar I decided to return on Friday night and was going to check exactly how many drinks I was buying and make a note in my phone of the time I purchased a drink. Imagine my surprise when I turned up, the door slid open and the Thai security guy stopped me from entering. I asked why and a lady who I assume was an employee of Titanium came to the door and raised her voice in Thai at me. I have no idea what she said but she turned around and the door was slid shut in my face. As I said earlier, the place is stale and the bar tired and I certainly won’t be returning to spend my hard-earned cash in a place that pretends to welcome farangs yet clearly allows customers to be ripped off so blatantly. I shall ensure that my friends who also frequent the bar are warned of this scam. This incident left me with a very nasty taste in my mouth.
Thai massage in Melbourne.
Your comment on Thai massage in Auckland rings true here in Melbourne. On the 2 km school run we go past 3 Thai massage outlets on the way and this is in the eastern suburbs, 15 km from the city centre. One has a big sign saying, “Don’t ask for sexual services”. The others don’t. Just down the road from our house, next to the local fish and chips, is a “Pole Dancing for Fitness” gym / school. I was picking up the chips the other day as a (possibly Thai) woman in a leotard with a visible tattoo went in. Funny how she came all the way to Australia to work on her skytrain shuffle skills. I hope the poles are well-engineered as she was looking much like her western classmates.
I am deeply sorry to hear of the death of Rock Hard Larry. I got to know Larry in Clinton Plaza when I had a beer bar there. I left Bangkok a number of years back and Larry and his exploits gave me a wealth of stories to regale people with, such as him being given $1,000,000 from a family trust fund when he was 21 and blowing the lot partying as no one told him there wouldn’t be another million. Meanwhile his sister invested hers in real estate. The anomaly of having the Pepsi sign in front of Rock Hard in Phuket. Breaking his leg in his office in Nana Rock Hard with the balloons gas cylinder. The beer guzzling contests between us which he kept on winning until I sussed why he had a straw in the bottle. He was a permanent college kid in his attitude to life and I am proud to say he was my friend. Larry was never going to die in an old folks home of boredom. He lived large and he died large.
Bizarre email of the week!
If a farang gets involved with a Bangkok massage girl, is he at risk of getting kidnapped for ransom? Having recently made my first Bangkok trip, I must say that many of the massage girls seem like rather sweet human beings (in contrast to most U.S. pros, who seem like career criminals). But, at the same time, if they can get a nice ransom, that’s a lot less “massages” they have to provide. Does the kidnap likelihood increase if you visit the girl’s hometown (Chang Mai, etc.)? For what it’s worth: I don’t care about being used for a few hundred bucks here & there. I do care about being bound & gagged, and having my dear parents mortgage their home to pay ransom.
Girl of the Week
Mandy, escort with BangkokEscort.com
In recent months I have heard of 3 working girls who have fallen pregnant. In each case it is believed their Thai boyfriend got them pregnant, even though they were working the bar at the time they became pregnant and doing what bargirls do. The first of the three was a lady who used to be a coyote dancer in The Strip who I photographed in September last year. I saw her in Nana Plaza not so long ago and could not help but notice that she had the obvious signs of having given birth recently. Next was an escort who continued to work the first trimester while pregnant. And last is a lady who has been featured heavily in this column this year and who is pregnant. She has stopped working. What is one to take out of this? Few ladies in the industry use birth control and most are doing the business with their boyfriends unprotected so it shouldn’t really be unexpected.
Ladies from Myanmar have long been popular in massage parlours and other nightlife establishments frequented by Thai men who prize their white skin and sweet innocence. And now there are a few women from Myanmar showing up in Bangkok’s farang bar areas. Ladies from neighbouring countries are nothing new in the gogo bars, especially ladies from Laos – until recently, some bars had up to half a dozen Laotians. And you don’t have to hunt too hard to find the odd lady from Cambodia either. But ladies from Myanmar in bars popular with Western men is not the norm. With the risks that some bar bosses take, I can only guess that being closed for 5 years is not a great concern – or is it the realisation that such bans apply to the location and not the bar owner who could simply get a new lease and set up across the road. Effectively, a 5-year ban punishes the land owner and not necessarily the leaseholder.
The snake will return to The Strip this coming Friday for an encore performance. This might be the last chance you get see a blond python in a gogo bar, so if that appeals get down to The Strip in Patpong soi 2 this coming Friday, December 2nd.
There will also be a party in The Strip this coming Tuesday for mamasan Nina. All are invited.
Dollhouse in Pattaya will celebrate its first anniversary on Friday of next week, December 9th. There will be 10 baht Tequila shots all night and a free BBQ pig roast.
While bars are free to charge whatever they like for drinks and I sure do not want to be one of those guys who complains about the price of a drink, I do think that the 200 baht Suzy Wong in Soi Cowboy charges for a lady drink is on the high side. OK, so when I am in town I don’t buy lady drinks – as in I don’t buy one, ever – but what I see a customer gets in return for buying said lady drink simply adds to the idea that he is being played.
Word is that the long-running Honey Hotel on Sukhumvit soi 19 – a long-time favourite of naughty boys – is to close in September, 2017. As with some of the other medium-sized, downtown Bangkok hotels that date back decades, many of the staff at the Honey have been employed there as long as anyone can remember. They are as much a part of the hotel as the iconic sign out front and the atmospheric lobby. The Honey joins a list of Vietnam era hotels sitting on prime real estate that are being levelled to make way for shiny new developments. The Rex met the wrecking ball a few years ago as did The Federal, just two of many of the classic old hotels from what I think of as Vietnam War era Bangkok. With the Honey Hotel on Death Row, how much remains of Vietnam era Bangkok?
The Old German Beerhouse on Sukhumvit Soi 11 has been in business for almost 30 years and like many venues that have been trading for so long, it had until recently a very favourable lease that meant what it paid in rent was well below current market rates. Word is that it paid just 200,000 baht a month for that large space on one of Bangkok’s most popular party sois. But all good things eventually come to an end and word has it that lease has been renewed and the new rent has jumped four times. Real estate prices in downtown Bangkok going bananas is one of the major challenges business owners face these days. It does make one wonder just how downtown Bangkok is going to change in the years to come.
As mentioned in last week’s column, no-one knows for sure how many times someone can enter Thailand in visa waiver stamps before the computer alerts the Immigration Officer who has to involve a supervisor before the traveller can be admitted. This week I was told by someone who is something of a visa expert that the alert comes up after 4 visits on visa waivers – but that doesn’t sound right because I know people who have visited several times this year on visa waiver stamps and nothing has been said to them. But what is perhaps more interesting is a report this week of someone who was issued a third tourist visa in a row i.e. all back to back, and was denied entry on arrival at Don Meuang Airport. While all of the details are not known, I think it is inevitable that those living in the country on back to back tourist visas were going to see that cracked down on.
From a branch of Immigration in greater Bangkok comes the observation that the desks of officers who deal with the public have advertising materials for the Thailand Elite Card strategically placed. If the Elite Card means nothing to you, it is a program run by Thailand Elite whereby you pay a large lump sum for membership (from 500,000 to 2,000,000 baht, depending on level of membership) and gain various benefits, the primary one being that you are issued with a visa that allows you to reside in Thailand for a period of time. 500,000 baht gets you a 5-year, hassle-free visa or in other words, allows you to live in Thailand for 5 years (or almost 6 years if you use it right). If I was living in Thailand year-round and had plans to stay for the duration, it’s probably the option I would go for. The word from those I know who are Elite Card holders is that the program works exactly as advertised and while it is not cheap, they are happy to have joined and don’t have any regrets.
One of the things I do to retain my sanity in Thailand is visit cat cafes. There’s something about petting and photographing placid felines which makes Bangkok that little bit more bearable. So imagine my delight when I learned that there was a dog cafe on my old soi, Sukhumvit soi 16. It is kind of odd in that the “cafe” itself is actually a small outdoor balcony area. With Bangkok weather it’s awfully hot for stars of the show. Some of the dogs look positively miserable and visiting was not the uplifting experience you get at a cat cafe. To make matters worse, breeds like huskies are hardly suited to a hot climate, let alone spending all day long outside on a balcony in the steamy, polluted heat of Bangkok.
Phuket has changed in many ways and today is a very heavily developed beach resort which is more of a party town than a natural attraction. One of the major changes in Phuket I have noticed over the years is not just the extreme over-development, but a change in the makeup of visitors. In the past Phuket had a semblance of class with a lot of northern European visitors who were there for the beach. While there was a bar scene, it wasn’t overbearing as it is in Patong today – which in many ways resemble parts of Pattaya. Today Phuket attracts a lot more party animals and the northern Europeans who once visited are just as likely to head to the quieter and more relaxing Khao Lak – just north of Phuket – which resembles what Phuket once was.
A reader mentioned the cheapest airfare I have heard of from the States to Thailand in a long time. Apparently, Cathay Pacific has a Black Friday deal on tickets from many US cities to any South-East Asia city Cathay flies to for just US$651. You have to book by the end of the month.
The excellent Twitter feed 2Price Thailand shows the discrepancies between what Thais pay and what foreigners pay at many attractions in Thailand – from national parks to general attractions to even bars which charge one price for Thais and a higher price for foreigners. Reading this stuff just really winds me up – so if you get wound up by finding out just how much we sometimes get ripped off, don’t click on the link!
Quote of the week comes from someone considering Thailand but who perhaps should be looking further afield, “I’m finding the key to a retirement destination is others with whom you can have a meaningful conversation.“
The Bangkok Post’s resident Brit gourmand took a look at English breakfasts in Bangkok.
A Russian drug dealer is arrested after hiding out for 3 years in Pattaya.
A new 10-year visa for retirees in Thailand looks like it will get the green light.
A Brit in Pattaya claims to have been punched in the face by a bar owner.
More Nigerian scammers are busted in Thailand, this time for tricking Thai women.
Family suspect the death of an American professor in Hua Hin was a cover up.
Sunbelt Asia Legal Advisors is here to answer all of your legal questions related to Thailand. Please feel free to send any questions to me and I will put them to Sunbelt and run their response in the next column.
Question 1: There are worries about urine tests for marijuana from tourists, even if the marijuana was smoked weeks ago in a jurisdiction where it is legal. I have friends with medical marijuana licenses in their home country. Should I advise that they not travel to Thailand since one would fail a random drug test if having smoked marijuana within the past 90 days? Another lawyer has stated the following and I wonder if it is accurate. “In cases where a person tests positive for drug use, but it can be proven that the drug was consumed in a jurisdiction where that consumption is legal, such as Amsterdam, the act is not considered a criminal offence.”
Sunbelt Legal responds: It doesn’t matter where you do the drugs, in Thailand it is illegal and the presence of illegal drugs in your system could result in an arrest. The Thai government prosecutes for use, possession, and distribution. However, drug testing generally occurs during raids on night clubs or late night open entertainment locations.
Question 2: Is it possible for a US citizen to convert a 30-day visa waiver stamp to a non-immigrant business visa? If so, what is the deadline?
Sunbelt Legal responds: It used to be possible to convert the 30-day visa waiver stamp to a non-Immigrant B visa. However, with the implementation of the new WP3 regulations, every foreign national has to receive the WP3 approval from the Labor Department before applying for the non-B outside of Thailand.
Sunbelt Asia Legal Advisors can assist you through this process – applying for the work permit, obtaining the WP3 and then ensuring you have all correct paperwork to apply for the non-B outside the country.
I’ll stick my neck out over various issues in Thailand where I think foreigners don’t get a fair go. Think double-pricing, profiling for police checks and some of the scams that are perpetrated specifically against foreigners. But don’t take that to mean that I am an advocate for farang affairs. I am not and I never have been. With this in mind, there are some issues where I go against the grain and find myself disagreeing with the vast majority of foreigners. One such issue is that of visas for foreigners. So why is it that while most foreigners think that Westerners should be able to reside in Thailand indefinitely whereas I disagree? Quite simply, when looking at any of these situations I try to put myself in the position of the host country and see how I would feel if that situation existed in my homeland – and in the case of opening the borders to all and sundry, I would not be in favour of that happening and believe that migration should be controlled and a country should manage migration according to its needs, and not the whims and wants of outsiders. That is why I understand why Thailand is not making it easier for some foreigners to remain in their country indefinitely. And deep down, I think that most foreigners in Thailand agree with me, at least in principle.
[signature]Your Bangkok commentator[/signature]