During his weekly TV briefing to the nation, aired on all channels, the general said he had ordered the Immigration Police to be “more flexible” in its application of the law.
Immigration recently cracked down on the number of times a foreigner may cross the border into a neighbouring country, turn around and re-enter the country on a new tourist visa.
Many of the people doing multiple out-in tourist visas were believed to be working in the country illegally, often as teachers or tour guides.
According to the English subtitles of his speech, the general said he was concerned that the clampdown – whereby people doing out-in visas are required to prove they are genuine tourists, or be barred from entry – was affecting schools and the tourist industry.
“This is an ongoing problem that needs to be resolved, as it can lead to a shortage of English teachers and guides,” he said.
The statement will shock many in the bureaucracy, on several levels. First, it is illegal to work while in Thailand on a tourist visa. Second, people working illegally pay no tax. And third, foreigners may not be guides in Thailand; that is a profession reserved for Thais only.
The crackdown was launched by the then-national commander of Thai Immigration, Lt Gen Pharnu Kerdlarpphon, who told The Phuket News on May 13, just nine days before the coup, that multiple out-in visa runs would no longer be tolerated. He has since been sidelined.
The question of foreigners working as tour guides has long been a troubled one. Although Thais alone may be tour guides, there are very few Thai guides who speak, for example, Korean or Russian, for which there is great demand. This fuels the number of people working illegally.
Even if Immigration now turn a blind eye to out-in visa runners, it will not solve the problems of unqualified foreigners teaching languages or foreign guides knowing nothing about the island’s history and making it up as they go along, leaving the tourists they instruct with a twisted understanding of Thai culture and history.
Thousands of foreigners in Phuket will be watching this issue with great interest.