Phuket tourism boss is concerned. Crackdown on foreigners nationwide launched by the Minister of Labour Phiphat Ratchakitprakarn as local outrage grows. Assaults and illegal businesses have seen tensions rise and locals left fed up. Especially in Southern Thailand and in tourist hotspots. Calls for the police and officials to implement the law strictly.

Amid a government nationwide crackdown on foreigners working illegally in Thailand, a top tourist business leader in Phuket warns that a spate of egregious criminal acts linked to visitors on the island may have tested the patience of locals. Nationwide, recent high-profile attacks by foreigners and labour law abuses are coinciding with an economy increasingly reliant on foreign tourism. At the same time, more foreigners are extending their stays in the kingdom, taking flight from war and bad weather at home. The result has raised tensions and a national campaign to rein in abuses, especially in Southern Thailand.

Minister of Labour Phiphat Ratchakitprakarn (right) has ordered a crackdown nationwide on employment and labour law abuses by foreigners. The crackdown has seen raids and arrests across the country, in particular, focused on Southern Thailand. Meanwhile, a local tourism industry boss in Phuket has expressed concern about the feelings of local people following several high-profile criminal acts by foreigners there including a long-stay resident and two tourists from New Zealand who attacked a uniformed policeman on Saturday, March 16th last (inset bottom). Similarly, there have been assaults reported in Ko Phangan (inset left bottom), Pattaya and Trang. It follows an alleged assault on a Thai female doctor by Swiss man Uli Fehr on February 24th (inset top left), a case which sparked public revulsion and protests on the island.

Thailand’s government is beginning to crack down on the activities of long-stay foreigners in the kingdom. It comes with the country’s economy in a slow state of decline. For instance, government receipts in the most recent period were down 11% on last year.

In the meantime, the situation has emphasised Thailand’s dependence on foreign tourism.

Russian invasion of Phuket as many flee the Russian Ukrainian War while more Westerners are again flocking to Thailand for long-term stays without means

In view of the current state of the Thai economy which comprises a huge informal or black market sector, the ability of workers in informal trades and occupations to earn income from tourism is critical.

Economists continue to highlight that half the Thai economy works on an informal unregistered basis. Much of it is linked to the tourism industry.

Nonetheless, this is this source of income that is being targeted by growing numbers of foreigners living in Thailand long-term.

For instance, the ongoing Russian-Ukraine war has led to a large Russian population in the country. In particular, in Phuket and southern provinces.

Many Russian visitors have come to stay until the war is over. 

Consequently, they are forced to find income unless they have savings or investments. 

Banker calls for government to rein in Thailand’s persistently large black economy amid economic malaise

In the meantime, the number of long-stay Westerners returning to Thailand on a casual basis has again started to rise. Many of these are similiarly without permanent income.

Previously, this cohort of people had left the country by the end of the pandemic emergency in 2022.

At the same time, a spate of high-profile criminal acts by foreigners have occurred especially in southern tourist hotspots. 

Undoubtedly, these incidents have shocked the country. In addition, they have significantly raised tensions among the local population.

Influential tourist boss in Phuket expresses his worry that the ‘feelings’ of locals on the holiday island could boil over with repeated criminal outrages

Indeed, this week, one veteran tourist boss in Phuket expressed concern. He indicated that the situation on the holiday island may, at this time, be beginning to trouble local people.

Thaneth Tantipiriyakij of the Phuket Business Association explicitly cited foreigners staying long-term in the country. He warned they could not behave as if they had complete freedom to do what they wanted.

The tourist boss said that while income for his members had just about recovered to the 2019 level, the number of foreign tourists was still only 75% of what they were in 2019.

In short, prices had risen along with more individual tourists with higher spending power.

On Monday, the Minister of Labour addressed the issue of foreigners in the kingdom taking Thai jobs.

Minister Phiphat Ratchakitprakarn warned that illegal employment of foreigners in Thailand continues to plague the country’s tourism sector.

In short, he said concerns are mounting despite efforts by officials to address the problem.

According to the Ministry of Labour, the number of illegal foreign workers has been on the rise, in particular across popular tourism destinations.

Minister of Labour Phiphat embarks on a programme to crack down on abuse of Thailand’s strict labour laws designed to protest Thai workers and traders

Mr Phiphat pointed to recent data from October 2023 to February 2024.

Unquestionably, it showed a significant increase in the number of illegal foreign workers. A total of 13,424 foreigners were found to be employed illegally during the period.

The cabinet minister said it posed a challenge to the enforcement of labour regulations. The trend is alarming.

The number of illegal foreign workers escalated from 35,258 in 2022 to 42,520 in 2023. At length, this was according to Employment Department figures.

In particular, officials are alarmed by the fact that some foreigners are engaging in occupations reserved for Thai nationals. For instance such occupations as tour guides and barbers.

Minister Phiphat underlined that the government was taking firm legal action against those found working illegally. Therefore, so far, 505 foreigners have been prosecuted for violating Thailand’s strict labour laws. 

Close scrutiny of companies with nominee shareholders

The majority of these cases involved individuals working in occupations restricted to Thai citizens. Certainly, most of the offenders hailed from neighbouring countries like Myanmar, Cambodia, and Laos.

The most common occupations for illegal foreign workers include sales clerks, street vendors, construction workers, and barbers. 

To address this issue, the Ministry of Labour is working closely with various agencies, including the Immigration Bureau and the Commerce Ministry.

One aspect of the crackdown is to inspect business concerns operated by foreigners using nominee shareholders.

In 2023 alone, officials conducted surveys on 42,520 foreign workers across all provinces. In turn, they prosecuted 1,641 individuals for illegal employment.

Veteran tourism boss in Phuket warns the security situation on the island and acts by foreigners must be carefully policed in light of recent events

Meanwhile, the tourism boss in Phuket said he is concerned that locals on the island may have been severely tested by the misbehaviour of foreign tourists.

Mr Thaneth Tantipiriyakij is the President of the Phuket Business Association. He is a veteran of the industry and a respected figure.

He said that at this time, police reported 400 complaints a month. In brief, these were exclusively linked to foreigners on the island. At length, most of these were related to traffic offences but there is rising concern at the attitude of tourists.

In addition, he appeared to be particularly concerned with foreigners staying on the holiday island on a long stay basis.

Indeed, Mr Thaneth suggested that some long-stay foreigners were, at times, behaved with impunity. He said this was not appropriate.

The tourist boss said the police in Phuket were consequently obliged to impose the law without bias.

Basically, the tourist chief insisted that officers favoured neither Thai locals nor foreigners who break the law in Phuket. Undoubtedly, he said, it must be and indeed was already applied strictly and by the book.

Fears that local people in Phuket may erupt

Nevertheless, the tourist boss said he worried that the ‘feelings’ of local Thai people may eventually erupt. Certainly, this could happen if these sorts of incidents happened too often. He insisted the only answer was strict law enforcement by police.

He explained that police have a difficult job on their hands, certainly in Phuket.

‘If you are strict with foreigners, people on social media will ask questions. Why are they trying to arrest only foreigners? When they come to arrest Thai people, they will tell them why they are only arresting Thai people? Therefore, the police try to enforce the law to the same standard. In short, doing this will make Thailand a better place to live in. I want to see the enforcement of the law. Regardless of race and social status. Anyone who invades the beach, we’ll take care of it all. If we do this, society will be able to move forward.’

Mr Thaneth was referring to a number of outrageous incidents in February and March on the island.

In short, one of these was the case of the now infamous Swiss national and businessman Uli Fehr. 

Swiss man Uli Fehr faces an assault charge before Phuket Provincial Court. His visa has been revoked and his stay in Thailand is only on a suspect’s visa

Mr Fehr had his business visa revoked and is facing criminal assault charges before the Phuket Provincial Court. 

He allegedly assaulted a young female doctor with his foot on the night of February 24 last. The incident and subsequently a video of it that went viral, provoked massive public protest in Phuket.

In addition, the two New Zealand brothers, Osca and Hamish Day, in their thirties, caused an international incident. The pair brutally assaulted a uniformed police officer while on duty on Saturday, March 16th last. Both are currently being held pending a trial.

New Zealand men face serious charges after a violent attack on a police officer in Phuket on Saturday
Swiss man Uli Fehr’s hellish Thai nightmare as he is detained and branded as a threat to society

The pair snatched a policeman’s gun and physically assaulted him with it.

The news came with reports of assaults by foreigners at the same time in Pattaya and in southern Trang province.

In particular, the March 4 assault by 62-year-old Swiss man Dieter Matthias Straumann on a frail Thai woman. 

Swiss man arrested in Trang province for a vicious and prolonged assault on a frail 53-year-old woman at a supermarket. Incident began over checkout push

That egregious attack occurred in a supermarket in front of shocked and terrified locals.

The foreign man jumped on the woman and physically pummelled her for a period. At length, it left her with black eyes and a broken nose.

Russian female tourist reported to police in Ko Phangan, charged and convicted after an attack on a pregnant shop owner when asked to remove her footwear

Similarly, other incidents are being noted as locals become quicker to report infringements by foreigners.

This is coming in response to police appeals for such reports including those identifying foreigners breaking labour laws.

In a shocking incident on March 18th, a Russian tourist, identified as Alena Kupriyanova, aged 41, was fined ฿500.

In addition, she was handed a suspended 15-day jail sentence after admitting to kicking a pregnant shop owner on Ko Phangan. 

The altercation arose when the shop owner requested Kupriyanova to remove her shoes before entering the premises. The victim, who was eight months pregnant, decided to press charges to prevent such behaviour from recurring.

According to the victim, identified as Ms Ploy, the incident occurred when Kupriyanova entered her organic herbal shop on the island. 

Ms Ploy politely asked her to remove her shoes, as per store policy to maintain cleanliness.

However, Kupriyanova reacted with acute hostility, hurling vulgar language at Ms Ploy before kicking her in the thigh and crotch.

Despite being pregnant, Ms Ploy bravely confronted the attacker, who fled the scene shortly after the assault.

Following the incident, Ms Ploy reported the matter to Ko Phangan Police Station, leading to an investigation by local authorities.

With the help of immigration officers, Kupriyanova was located and brought to book. In a meeting between the victim and the perpetrator, Kupriyanova expressed remorse and apologised for her behaviour.

Russian’s visa status unconfirmed. Police officers said such matters were decided on a case-by-case basis

Despite the apology, Ms Ploy remained resolute in pursuing legal action and ensured justice was served. 

Police Lieutenant Colonel Kiatkhajorn Amloy, the investigating officer, reassured Ms Ploy. The policeman afterwards pursued criminal charges against Kupriyanova.

Subsequently, however, the Russian’s visa status was not confirmed. Certainly, any criminal conviction or even charge before a court in Thailand is grounds for any foreigner’s visa being revoked. 

Indeed, such was the case with well-established businessman and elephant sanctuary owner Uli Fhr. The Swiss man, at this time, is in Thailand only on a 90-day suspect’s visa as he awaits trial.

The latest incident on Ko Phangan has further sparked concerns over the behaviour of tourists in Thailand.

Indeed, Interior Minister Anutin Charnvirakul has emphasised that foreigners who break the country’s laws will be prosecuted. 

While visa revocation is being considered for Kupriyanova, it was noted that such actions are decided on a case-by-case basis. 

Significantly, statistics reveal that 614 foreigners have faced court legal action for committing crimes in Thailand from October 2023 to this month.

Foreigners must take note of the law in relation to criminal matters, the restrictions regarding employment and the strict labour laws in Thailand 

In light of this incident and the rising outrage among the Thai population, it is imperative for foreigners to take note.

Indeed, tourists and expats alike have to show respect for Thai laws and certainly also, the kingdom’s customs.

Just prior to the assault on Ko Phangan, the crackdown on illegal activities hit the island for a second time.

On the idyllic island, an Israeli woman, identified as Suli Shulamite Avraham, aged 56, was arrested. She was charged with allegedly running an unlicensed nursery for foreign children. 

The arrest came following a raid led by Noppadol Khaomali, chief of Ko Phangan district on Thursday, March 14th. The chief was escorted by local officials, police, immigration officers, and representatives from concerned agencies.

During the raid, four other foreign nationals were also apprehended. These individuals were identified as Alon Jacob, aged 50, an Israeli national; Daniel Stewart, aged 38, a British national; Louise Cilliers, aged 42, a South African; and Hla Hla Win, aged 28, a Myanmar national.

Israeli woman arrested for running a nursery, her business was raided and suppressed just days after a similar raid on a daycare centre run by an American

Avraham, the alleged owner of the illegal nursery, faced charges including operating a nursery without permission. 

In addition, she was booked for hiring foreign nationals without work permits and failing to notify authorities about their employment. Jacob and Stewart were charged with working without valid work permits.

At the same time, Cilliers and Win were accused of failing to notify their employer and the authorities about their work status.

Illegal American-run daycare centre for foreign children on Ko Phangan raided. 8 people arrested by Immigration Police

All five individuals were taken into custody by police investigators at Ko Phangan police station for further legal proceedings.

American woman was catering for 20 young children at her well-run daycare centre. Latest arrest is that of a Russian yoga sex instructor on the island

This is not the first instance of foreigners being arrested for illegal activities on Ko Phangan. Just days previously, an American woman was detained for operating an illegal nursery on the island.

The daycare centre, although illegal and without permits, appeared to be well-run.

In that raid, approximately 20 foreign children were found on the premises. In addition to the American woman, three foreign women working as babysitters and four Myanmar housekeepers were also arrested. Certainly, they were also charged with working illegally.

Furthermore, on Tuesday of this week, a Russian man was arrested for unlawfully running a vehicle rental business on Ko Phangan. He was added to the list of foreigners engaging in illegal activities on the island.

Finally, arrests are being carried out throughout the kingdom, especially in the South. The latest on Ko Phangan is the detention of a Russian yoga sex instructor on the island. 

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Further reading:

New Zealand men face serious charges after a violent attack on a police officer in Phuket on Saturday

Swiss man Uli Fehr’s hellish Thai nightmare as he is detained and branded as a threat to society

Russian murdered in Phuket at a residence converted into a cannabis factory. Main suspect just flew out

Hard-boiled Russians arrested for violent extortion deny charges. Tell police they are just normal tourists

Intimidated Russian couple ask Royal Thai police to join Thailand’s Witness Protection Programme in Ko Samui

Russian mafia gang extort young Russian couple out of $50k at a local coffee shop on Ko Samui

Drug party racket busted on Ko Samui with 47 year old Russian arrested in Immigration Bureau raid on home

A Russian man assaulted by protest leader at Pattaya rally leaving his 10-year-old daughter hysterical

The Russian couple arrested, charged and fined for having sex in public on a Pattaya beach shown on video clip

Russian faces counterfeit charges after gifting toy money to bar staff while also paying in baht

Stranded Russians offered free food in Phuket as Aeroflot begins to airlift over 21,000 stranded home to safety