Thailand’s expat community has grown exponentially in recent decades and Bangkok has become the World’s City – for Thailand’s immigration police it means they find themselves dealing with an ever-increasing workload and the threat of international criminality.

In an at-times passionate interview this week, the immigration bureau chief for division 1 in Bangkok has called for more understanding from expats and foreigners in Thailand as he seemed to indicate that some improvements are on the way to make the controversial TM30 reporting requirement easier to do.

Major General Patipat Suban na Ayudhaya is the chief of Immigration Police Division 1 in Bangkok. He has 250 officers to handle incoming tourists to Bangkok, a growing migrant labour force and the growing expat community with visa renewals and increasing regulation. On top of all this, there is a rising threat from foreign criminals. He gave an interview this week to KhaoSod and asked expats in Thailand for more understanding as police officers implement the law. He did suggest however that a solution may be found in making it easier to comply with the controversial TM30 reporting requirement.

Major General Patipat Suban na Ayudhaya explained the tremendous workload and pressure currently being brought to bear on the immigration bureau dealing with a growing number of tourists, immigrants and criminal elements abusing Thailand’s traditional welcome for visitors by using the kingdom as a hub for their nefarious purposes.

The police boss for immigration police division 1 appealed for more understanding from foreigners and the powers that be not only over the current TM30 controversy but also the growing workload that his officers have to bear dealing with an escalating task.

Growing demands on an overworked immigration bureau handling tourists, migrant labour and expats

Major General Patipat explained that his division was responsible not only for the growing numbers of tourists entering Thailand through Suvarnabhumi and other airports in Bangkok but also for a growing migrant labour population from Thailand’s neighbouring countries in addition to the growing expat community in the kingdom.

Bangkok division chief appeared at the Foreign Correspondents Club in mid-August

The division head may be familiar to some expats from his appearance at a mid-August panel discussion and public meeting held at the Foreign Correspondents Club in Bangkok. He spoke quite passionately about the task he and his officers are undertaking to reporters at the popular Thai language publication, KhaoSod.

Immigration police boss does not have the authority to change the law, been there before he joined

He noted that he has been in the immigration police force for 35 years and that the 1979 immigration law and all its regulations were in force before he joined. He accepted that it may not be suitable today to the change in immigration patterns in Thailand and in the world that has happened since then, but explained that his duty as a police officer and others in the force is to follow the law. ‘Some of the rules may not be modern, but we are trying to be modern now. We will not always be million-year-old turtles,’ Patipat said. ‘But in terms of the law, we have no power to change it. It’s not under our authority – if you want change, you have to change the law.

Wide-ranging 1979 act controls all aspects of immigration and gives scope for ministerial regulation

The 1979 law, in fact, is quite wide-ranging. It governs and allows for the management and control of immigration in Thailand. It allows for ministerial regulations to be made in quite a few areas such as the recent changes announced to require foreigners in Thailand with Non-Immigrant O-A visas take out health insurance for renewing or extending visas.

Foreign Chambers of Commerce have submitted proposals to the Thai government on TM30

Last week the Chairman of the Joint Foreign Chambers of Commerce came out and said his organisation had put some practical proposals to the government on the thorny issue of TM30 reporting required of foreigners moving to another place of address in Thailand for more than 24 hours to have the new address notified to immigration by the landlord.

Chamber chief ideally wants to see it scrapped

The Chamber of Commerce chief said the proposals if accepted, would help ease the problem but indicated that the rules should preferably be scrapped. He also indicated that an influential guillotine task force within the Thai government has recommended the abolition of the provision as a way of making doing business in Thailand easier.

Long delays in register online with the Immigration Bureau website reported by expats

The immigration police chief this week did seem to indicate that there would be some changes in the operation of the TM30 reporting requirement. Nothing has been confirmed yet but one of the key gripes by expats is in relation to the long delays in setting up an account with the immigration service’s website to allow for online reporting.

It has also emerged that the strict enforcement of this provision began on March 25th last where previously, the legal requirement was either laxly applied or non-uniformly applied depending on the immigration office or region.

Expats say that criminals simply ignore TM30

As well as explaining the limited resources that his force has, the police chief did address a common complaint or point made by foreigners critical of the TM30 provision. That is that criminals in Thailand such as those arrested this week at call centres in Bangkok and Pattaya do not even bother with regulations at all and mostly operate on tourist visas be they expired or not.

Major General Patipat appeared to accept this

The Immigration boss appeared to accept this but pointed out that the responsibility for reporting under the law rests with the property owners.

He said that if all property owners followed the law with rigour then many of the criminals would have a more difficult time finding bases in Thailand. ‘If everyone follows the rules, it would be hard for them to base their operations in Thailand,’ the major general said. ‘But when the rules are lax, the criminals tell each other.’

Criminals entering Thailand as tourists are the source of the problem. It is a real and growing issue

The problem as Major General Patipat and his junior officers explained at the public meeting of expats on August 15th in Bangkok is that among the growing number of tourists coming into Thailand from countries all over the world, there is also a growing criminal element. In response, the total immigration force of the Royal Thai Police has 5,000 officers to deal with the tourists and immigrant community.

However, the immigration boss was not without hope when he suggested that a combination of understanding from expats and an effort by the immigration police to make complying with the law easier may help resolve the problem.

Things have changed so much in the last three decades with a growing expat community in Thailand

The Major General also pointed out that things had altered so much in the last three decades with more foreign residents now living in Thailand. ‘Things were very different back then, First, there weren’t so many foreign residents at the time. So the system we implemented didn’t have this many problems either. When there weren’t many people, it was easy.’

Bangkok is now the World’s city, not London or Paris

Bangkok was confirmed this week as the most visited city in the world for 2018. It has now consistently ranked ahead of London or Paris. It highlights a growing tourist trade bearing in mind the last year was a record and that this year will be a record. 

Despite the problems that expats are having in Thailand right now with the strong baht and heightened immigration regulation, the kingdom remains a focus for western people seeking an alternative lifestyle notably in recent years among younger adults. The numbers of expats living in Thailand has never properly been quantified as it merges with tourism in the country and also a growing community of frequent traveller to the kingdom.

Organised crime gangs from all over the world but particularly from Africa and China

In the middle of this, there is not only a terrorist threat but also a growing use of Thailand by organised criminal gangs markedly from Africa and China. The immigration bureau of the Royal Thai Police Force is caught between policing this threat, upholding the visa regulations for tourists and expats while also regulating a growing migrant labour force from Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar and Vietnam.

Bangkok immigration boss calls for more resources to handle growing numbers of visitors

In his interview this week, the senior policeman called for more resources for the immigration bureau to handle the growing workload as tourists and immigrant numbers in Thailand rise. Major General Patipat pointed to the immigration channels at Suvarnabhumi Airport which have not been extended for a number of years despite growing levels of arrivals.

Recent technology such as biometric scanning and central databases have helped to fight the criminal gangs but the sheer numbers require more extensive resources

Who gets the blame? Immigration. Police chief asks for understanding from expats

‘More people are using the airport, but they don’t give us more booths, so of course, there are long lines. And who gets the blame? Immigration. Immigration is always the last thing they think about.’ Asked what he was calling for, he indicated more stable infrastructure for the service to carry out its functions. He also asked for more understanding. This seems to have been directed at foreigners and expats.

Further reading:

Unit suggests that TM30 reporting be scrapped to make doing business in Thailand easier as Chambers weigh in

It’s a hard station for Thai police and foreigners should understand better the job they do to keep order

Thai expats launch website to campaign for easier immigration reporting rules for visa holders