The two foreigners, both British, were arrested by Phuket Immigration officers after a tip-off, but were quickly handed over to Chalong Police, who were requested to investigate the operators of the school.
After years of Phuket Immigration touting all the foreigners they have arrested for working illegally, not once have they touted the charges pressed against a company that profited from hiring them illegally.
To be clear, this is not to assert that the school involved in the arrests this week is guilty of any such offence. A lot of dust has yet to settle on that incident, especially considering that Phuket Immigration only last week admitted that it had been refusing applications to change foreigners’ visa status specifically so they would not have to leave the country in order to start work – despite an order issued by Gen Suwat Chaengyodsuk, the Deputy Commissioner of the entire Royal Thai Police who has already named to become the chief of the entire national police force, specifically stating this in a formal notice to the Ministry of Education. Apparently Phuket Immigration was unaware of that order, and we are supposed to believe that.
The Immigration Bureau’s track record for failing to prosecute companies for illegally hiring Westerners speaks for itself, despite two Emergency Decrees railroaded through Parliament in 2017 to ramp up the penalties targetting employers who abuse the rights of their workers.
Like it not, those new penalties were pushed through from up on high following heavy pressure from the US to force Thailand to step up its game against human trafficking, the cornerstone of cheap illegal migrant labour throughout the country. Since then, by amazing coincidence, every report from the port office checking fishing boats operating in and out of Phuket has failed to find a single illegal migrant worker.
Specifically highlighted in the 2017 laws were the penalties for an employer withholding a foreigner’s work permit, and a new provision specifically detailing the illegal practice of an employer deceiving a foreigner that a work permit or the correct visa were not needed, or that the employer would attend to those issues, but never get around to doing so.
What seems odd is that immigration officials seem to be aware that this practice might be used to exploit foreigners from economically depressed countries, but not aware that the same practice can be just as easily used against naive Westerners. Instead, all we hear is the mantra that the foreigners will be prosecuted and deported. This is the plain warning given to all foreigners who might be thinking of breaking immigration law in order to stay in Thailand. Fair enough.
But such warnings are never levelled at the employers. A simple example presented itself in July this year, amid the so-called ‘visa amnesty’, when a Cameroon man was arrested at a football academy in Phuket for staying illegally in the country for two years. We’re not debating the point that the foreign man had broken immigration law, but it is disconcerting that the football academy, a franchise representing a globally known Paris-based football club, was never reported as being charged with anything.
Keep in mind that immigration officers explained, at a press conference in Bangkok in front of Immigration Bureau Commissioner-General Lt Gen Sompong Chingduang no less, that they had first confirmed that the Cameroon man had been working at the football academy, and then moved in and actually arrested him while he was working there. How the football academy had no idea the Cameroon man had overstayed his visa by years beggars belief.
As for the foreigners arrested at the school in Rawai this week, the one legal loophole that may exonerate them is subject to the Immigration Bureau’s archaic requirement that all applications be filed on paper. In short, if an officer chooses, there will be no evidence that any application was presented at all. Of course the advantage is that paper can easily be backdated and all this may end up being yet another great ‘misunderstanding’. That might take ‘special consideration’ to achieve, but it is possible.
But while the Immigration Bureau drags its feet to bring its main services online, whereby a foreigner can prove what application was filed when and with which supporting documents, everything remains at the discretion of the officer sitting in front of you.
The benefits of allowing online services – other than removing the opportunity for a single officer to interfere errantly without any repercussions – are nigh exponential. Not including the stupidity of submitting reams of photocopies of documents that have already been given to immigration countless times before, the funniest one we can think of is that under the so-called visa amnesty, one update on the immigration database would have avoided any foreigners having to visit the immigration offices at all.
We can all guess why Immigration chooses to maintain the paper system, but to presume that foreigners do not understand it is just embarrassing.