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Phuket Opinion: Crossing the line

PHUKET: The latest requirements by Phuket Immigration for one-year permits to stay as confirmed by The Phuket News this week crosses several lines.

By The Phuket News

Sunday 7 May 2023, 10:00AM

A standard application for a one-year permit to stay. Photo: The Phuket News

A standard application for a one-year permit to stay. Photo: The Phuket News

Confirmation that a foreigner was required to provide a copy of a Chanote title for a property the foreigner does not own is one, just for starters. We have been down this road before.

This issue was last resolved during the TM30 debacle in 2019, after months of Immigration officers requiring foreigners to ensure that their landlord filed the TM30 – the form for landlords to report to Immigration any foreigners staying in their properties.

Section 28 of the Immigration Act is plain in its wording: the legal responsibility is that of the landlord, not the foreign tenant. A foreigner signing a TM30 report, which immigration officers were demanding, literally made foreigners provide false information to a government official. An illegality that can have serious consequences.

Phuket Immigration Deputy Chief Col Nareuwat Putthawiro in 2019 finally made it plain that if permit to stay applicants could provide the TM30 signed by their landlord, all well and good. But more importantly, Col Nareuwat confirmed that a foreigner’s application for a permit to stay would not be refused on if the foreigner could not provide it. That is essential.

It was a wonderful understanding of policy, especially as the immigration officers had no legal right to demand foreigners to provide the TM30 in the first place. It was also especially good news for any foreigners whose landlord is not in Phuket, or even Thailand.

So here we go again with signed copies of a Chanote title now being required, another document the foreign tenant has no right to demand from the landlord. If the foreigner can provide it, and that is only if the landlord wants to let his tenant know the ownership details of the property the foreigner is staying at, again all well and good.

But the claim by Phuket Immigration Chief Pol Col Thanet Sukchai that the officer this week was only “asking” for the copy of the Chanote is not true. The officer handed back the entire application – a two-inch thick wad of signed documents – saying that the application was incomplete.

The application was refused. In terms of official records, it was as if the foreigner never submitted the application at all – and that is dangerous. The refusal of the application on these grounds comes under threat of deportation of the foreigner for failing to apply for a permit to stay – which is simply not true.

The claim was that the copy of the Chanote was needed as part of confirming that the foreigner was actually staying at the address provided. Keep in mind this is for an application that included a signed copy of the lease agreement, a signed copy of the landlord’s Thai ID card, a signed copy of the tabien baan (house registration document), photos of the foreigner, his wife and child at the house, with the photos including the house number actually fixed to the front of the house, not to mention the foreigner’s address is already registered with that exact Immigration office – and has been for more than a decade – and the foreigner’s 90-day report is up to date, as required. Let’s not forget the dumbfounding hand-drawn map showing where the foreigner lives, also signed, of course, being provided.

A copy of the Chanote adds no more confirmation that the foreigner is actually staying at the address given. It is just another piece of paper, which Immigration is supposed to be required – by law – to ask the landlord to provide. But of course they might have a little more difficulty asking Thai nationals the financial details and ownership status of their properties – and that might be exactly what Immigration officers are trying to avoid.

The new requirement to have an immigration officer conduct a video walk-through of the home where the foreigner is staying dips into murkier waters. Col Thanet’s claim that the new requirement is “case by case” is not true, as three pages of comments on a visa forum attests. It is systemic, and being conducted elsewhere in the country.

Two key recurring themes stand out in those pages of comments. First is that the practice is widespread, and recurring. It is certainly not “case by case”. The other key point is the two contrasting perspectives among long-term expats: some accept the ‘home visit’ (note: not walk-through inspections) as appropriate to confirm that the foreigner actually lives at the address provided. Others simply shifted to a different visa, namely retirement, in order to avoid the experience.

But the home is a different place, and these ‘video walk-throughs’ border on plain invasion of privacy. As comments online by expats elsewhere in the country confirm, officers in other provinces often do not even bother with this. The officers visit the house to confirm the foreigner lives there. In many cases the officers do not even bother the foreigner. Instead, they question the neighbours, a sound practice providing independent confirmation that the foreigner lives at the address given.

But here in Phuket, immigration officers are pretending they are “asking” long-term expats to allow a home visit. Not being mentioned are the consequences of refusing one.

Worse, long-term expats are now being treated as suspects without any trace of immigration officers, who actually are officers of the Royal Thai Police, having any cause for believing that the foreigner has broken any laws. Try treating any Thais like this. Recurring investigations and ’home visits’ without a shred of evidence, and not even bothering with a search warrant, as is known with known drug offenders. The whole approach is appalling. The recurring aspect, if applied to Thais, would be a simple case of harrassment.

To put it bluntly, if any foreigners are under suspicion of breaking laws, then Immigration should investigate them. Treat suspects as suspects. There is no argument with that. The Phuket News supports it. We want a better Phuket.

Video call inspections of workplaces conducted to prove the foreigner is actually working at the company named in their application make sense. Phuket Immigration might want to try that with local language schools to confirm “students” registered as staying on education visas.

Meanwhile, with all this comes the level of trust with this ‘extra information’ now being required. Immigration, like all other government offices, would like to keep telling people that they can be trusted, but that may be a little difficult when they are still reusing copies of private financial information from applications for their standard forms.

Freely available to anyone who walks through the door at Phuket Immigration are the standard application forms for 90-day reporting, ‘renewing visas’ and, yes, registering the foreigner’s address. But these forms are still branded “Recycle” and are printed on the reverse side of pages submitted with applications.

Among these copies picked up by The Phuket News this week were copies of private financial information of foreigners, and Thais, including a copy of a bankbook showing the name of a real estate consultancy featuring the bank account number, the bankbook number and the account balance.

The very next page clearly showed the names, social security numbers and salaries of 19 people working for the same real estate consultancy.

That creates a difficult level of trust.

Comment on this story

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cheez | 08 May 2023 - 16:23:57

@ Fascinated: Comments on any issue are the collective voice of the community, in this instance well summed up in the quote given by Kamala Pete. How fortunate you are to view good people with the fortitude to speak up for a better way to manage their communities. Yes, indeed truth can be a bitter pill.

Fascinated | 08 May 2023 - 11:52:50

Wow there's some bitter people here- one wonders why they even bother to stay here if they hate it so much. Personally I've never had an issue with Immigration in 20 years- clearly its all about attitude. if you prefer what happens in your own country you know the answer.

christysweet | 08 May 2023 - 11:21:02

Jealousy? Nah.  in  a culture that detests foreigners,  if the alien cannot afford to pay an agent, then the alien is scum. Particularly if alien takes advantage of the culture's sexism  in way of  a  personal Thai body servant, AKA wife. Alien should not complain, but be tossing money to those who facilitate that luxury.  

JohnC | 08 May 2023 - 09:19:07

Good opinion piece. Just one more example of their on-going jealousy of foreigners. That's basically what it comes down to, they would rather be us than themselves and their tiny minds & fragile egos can't let them be helpful towards those they want to be like. If foreigners (including Thais)  were treated like this in my country the government would be dragged in to court for human ri...

Capricornball | 07 May 2023 - 17:11:20

Thanks TPN for calling this out for the nonsense that it is. Amazing that these tin pot "officials" can come in on a whim and make changes to the process, for whatever reason, even if it runs counter to the written laws. Also amazing that something like Immigration rules can vary throughout the country. Someone needs to come in and smooth this mess out and make it consistent everywhere.

CaptainJack69 | 07 May 2023 - 15:49:49

Thailand has no respect for foreigners and never has. Thai culture is rife with what can be called 'passive racism'. A term used to describe discrimination brought about through ignorance. It simply doesn't occur to them that we are human beings with equal rights to (edited) people with little blue plastic cards in their pockets.

Kamala Pete | 07 May 2023 - 12:17:56

Excellent opinion piece. Someone once said "All that is needed for evil to prevail is for good men to do nothing". It's great to see the good people at TPN chasing this one so hard. Congratulations.

Kurt | 07 May 2023 - 11:21:47

This Opinion lays out the complete 'off the road' of Phuket Imm. They fantasize a lot altogether, actually proving they violate several Thai laws. Time General Prime minister + his cabinet look into this. Hello, almost daily they beat us around the head with tourist spending figures. When they analyse the solid constant(!) economic contribution of foreign retirees/business people?


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