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.
cheez | 08 May 2023 - 16:23:57