Officials are warning employers in Thailand following the case. The school authorities could be facing up to ฿2 million in fines and up to 10 years imprisonment for the offence for which penalties were made more severe by government decree in 2017. The two teachers are expected to face charges before the Phuket Provincial Court and if convicted, will be deported from Thailand while the island’s Employment Office investigates the establishment. This all follows the ending of the amnesty visa over one week ago and a new emphasis by immigration police on enforcement, including the use of database technology and smart cars, particularly targeted at people whose visas were not renewed by the deadline or who are working illegally in Phuket and across the kingdom.

A top international school for younger children was under investigation by officials in Phuket at the end of the week after two teachers were arrested on suspicion of working without the appropriate visa or work permit. The Palm House International School, by way of a response to press enquiries and mounting speculation, issued an online statement to parents at the weekend, in which it blamed poor record-keeping and the impact of Covid-19 disruption for the situation.

Immigration Police in Phuket arrested two teachers at a prestigious school in Phuket this week and both are due in court. The school is also under investigation and may face more serious charges for employing teachers without work permits. Details of the case were given by Lieutenant Colonel Nareuwat Putthawiro as police escalated enforcement operations in Phuket and around Thailand. (Above) The arrest on February 24th, this year, of South African, Andre Sean Vermaak, on visa overstay charges. He was deported and banned from Thailand for 10 years.

A prestigious international school in Phuket is being investigated by police following the arrest of two teachers at the institution on Wednesday as police in Phuket and around Thailand upgrade their enforcement efforts.

The two, who have not yet been named, are expected to be brought before the Provincial Court in Phuket shortly on charges of working illegally in Thailand and if convicted, will face deportation from the country.

Top Immigration police officer revealed the arrest of two British teachers on Wednesday and says school will also be probed for breaking the law

Details of the arrest and the ongoing investigation were given, this weekend, to the local newspaper in Phuket, the Phuket News, by Lieutenant Colonel Nareuwat Putthawiro who is the deputy chief of the Phuket Immigration Bureau.

‘The two teachers were arrested for working without a work permit. Once processed, they will be deported out of the country. Meanwhile, the owner of the school will be investigated too,’ Lieutenant Colonel Nareuwat said. ‘Both are British nationals.’

Thousands of tourist visa holders have still not renewed their visas, many are believed to be working illegally in Thailand at this time

The two British teachers, it appears, are among the many thousands who entered Thailand before the Covid 19 lockdown and have been living in the kingdom since, availing of the visa amnesty and the extensions granted by the Thai government.

The arrests come just over a week after the amnesty expired on Saturday the 31st October last when police warned that they were going to begin their ongoing enforcement operations which had been less emphasised since the end of March when the country’s borders were closed.

UK teachers entered Thailand as tourists

At the end of October, Immigration Bureau Chief, Lieutenant General Sompong Chingduang warned, that enforcement operations would be ramped up while his senior officers have expressed fears that many foreigners have begun to work illegally in the kingdom. 

The teachers are understood to have entered Thailand with a visa on arrival status prior to the country’s lockdown at the beginning of April 2020. This initially allowed them to stay in the country for thirty days.

Chalong police took over the investigation, pair expected to be brought before Phuket Provincial Court

Lieutenant Colonel Nareuwat explained the situation further: ‘Their visa status does not allow them to work or perform any form of business. They were arrested as they are suspected of working without a work permit,’ he revealed.

The senior officer said the case was being investigated by police in the Chalong area of Phuket and the two UK nationals would be brought before the Provincial Court in due course.

‘Right now, they are being investigated and questioned by Chalong Police. Next, their case will be soon submitted to the Phuket Provincial Court. If the judge finds them guilty, they will be deported.’

Police to also go after the international school on the Southwest of the resort island over the case

The school that employed the two teachers may be in deep trouble according to Lieutenant Colonel Nareuwat.

It is understood that police are now also looking at the well known Palm House International School after preliminary enquiries following the arrest of the two teachers on Wednesday.

‘Meanwhile, we have already asked the Chalong Police to investigate the school owner over this issue, because the school accepted foreigners to work illegally,’ he revealed. 

More severe penalties now for employers who break the law and employ foreigners illegally since 2017

Officials are pointing out that under an emergency legal provision issued in 2017, the penalties for companies hiring foreign workers without the appropriate work permits, have become severe.

The Chief of the Phuket Employment Office, Pitool Dumsakorn, has pointed out the extent of the penalties for employers found guilty of such acts and warned other employers to take note.

‘For example, deceiving that one can bring a foreigner to work without a work permit can incur a fine from ฿600,000 up to ฿1 million and from three to 10 years in prison, or both, for each foreign worker deceived,’ he said.

Foreign employees must have the correct work permit for any job or risk arrest, deportation from Thailand

There are also fines and penalties for foreign employees but these are less severe than those on the books for employers and most situations usually end in the deportation of the foreigner concerned from the kingdom.

Employers should also note that the work permit has to be appropriate to the job concerned as this has become an issue too, with foreigners switching jobs from one firm to another, also falling foul of the law.

Statement to parents on social media from the school at the end of the week as it faces possible charges

At the end of the week, the Palm House International School, in the Southwest of Phuket, which caters for children from 3 years of age up to 14 years old, has come forward in a social media post to parents, offering some explanation for the current controversy.

There are also reports from teachers that salaries have been left unpaid and are in arrears at the school. It is also facing allegations that it had failed to properly apply for work permits for teachers who had taken up employment.

The statement, issued by the school, suggested that the teachers concerned were merely interviewed by immigration authorities and attributed this to a failure of its record-keeping system.

It concluded that the episode was partly due, also, to the Covid-19 disturbance and promised to correct the situation when a new director is appointed to the school shortly.

‘As you have no doubt heard we had a visit from immigration on Wednesday, unfortunately, this led to two of our teachers being interviewed for visa reasons. With all the Covid disruptions to border control and a misunderstanding regarding visas, this brought about a hiccup in our records. However, we are interviewing a potential new director on Friday, who will ensure that this type of misunderstanding never occurs again.’

Phuket Immigration police arrested a South African national in February for a visa overstay using one of its technology-driven smart cars

Phuket’s Immigration Bureau, while being well known in Thailand for its accommodating service to the large numbers of foreigners that lie within its jurisdiction, also has a record for vigorously enforcing the immigration laws regarding visa overstayers and foreigners working without work permits.

Police are making good use of their database which can tell who has not renewed their visa and is currently in the kingdom as well as other defining information. This technology is also mobile as officers are out and about in the field.

On February 24th last, before the shutdown began at the end of March, the bureau used one of its newly equipped smart cars to track down 56-year-old South African national, Andre Sean Vermaak, who was found to have overstayed his visa by 479 days.

Banned from Thailand for 10 years

The foreigner was subsequently ordered to be deported from Thailand and was banned from the country for 10 years.

The arrest, like that on Wednesday last, in Phuket, was the result of a tip-off to police which resulted in police tracking down Mr Vermaak and taking him into custody.

Lieutenant Colonel Nareuwat was also involved in that case and praised the role played by the use of a local Immigration Bureau smart car in the operation. 

‘These cars are useful for working quickly. For example, they can take fingerprint scans to identify people and they have dash cams and a fast internet connection,’ he pointed out. ‘We can now go anywhere in Phuket after receiving a tip-off and check people’s immigration status without having to bring them back to the Phuket Immigration office.’

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Further reading:

Visa amnesty finally ending but the new regime is pragmatic and may allow for further renewals

Visa amnesty to be retrospectively extended to October 31st says top Immigration Bureau officer

Time up for some long-stay business owners as immigration warns of arrests after Saturday’s deadline

Visa amnesty to end with 30-day extensions on application as the focus moves to long-stay visa holders

American and Thai wife arrested for operating an illegal visa business in Bangkok using fake official stamps

Broken-hearted Swede fears history will repeat itself as shock parting left him stranded in Laos for 4 months

Two Immigration Bureau officers in Nonthaburi suspended after video appears to show bribe request

Stranded foreigners must get embassy letter, new visa or leave Thailand to avoid arrest by police

US Embassy in Bangkok – guidance on the visa amnesty expiry

UK Embassy in Bangkok – letters for visa extensions

PM signs order granting visa extensions to all valid visa holders until April 30th to cull queues

Officials find a visa solution for up to 500,000 foreigners riding out the coronavirus crisis here in Thailand

Smart cars highlighted by the Immigration Bureau as it seeks out foreigners hiding from the law

Immigration boss warns that a new crackdown on foreigners flouting Thai laws has begun

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