Thai Police and Immigration Increasing Scrutiny of Overseas Visitors: Recent Trends in Enforcement

Home » Thai Police and Immigration Increasing Scrutiny of Overseas Visitors: Recent Trends in Enforcement

A recent news item in the Bangkok Post surely reminded some of a legal requirement that is perhaps observed more in the breach, namely, the obligation of landlords renting to foreigners to file paperwork with immigration or local police reporting the residence of foreign renters and guests. In this case, a noise complaint by residents of a luxury condominium building against a nearby temple resulted in a surprise inspection by Bangkok police, who found a dozen cases of unreported leases to foreigners[note]“Unit owners at ‘temple bell’ condo face immigration fines,” Bangkok Post (Oct. 8, 2018).[/note]. On the date of the initial dispute, police had found a Korean national who had overstayed his visa and was sought in multiple fraud cases; when they returned the following week, they found no additional cases of illegal immigration, but instead cited the condominium unit owners for failure to file Form TM.30 disclosing they had rented to foreign nationals.

The reporting obligation originates in section 38 of the Immigration Act of 1979[note]Immigration Act, B.E. 2522 (1979) (translation available here [hyperlink: http://web.krisdika.go.th/data/outsitedata/outsite21/file/Immigration_Act_B.E._2522.pdf]).[/note]. The relevant language provides that any “householder,” “owner,” or “possessor” of a residence, as well as the manager of a hotel, must notify immigration officials or else local police whenever he or she “takes in” an alien “as a resident[note]Id. § 38.[/note].” There is no element of rent, hotel charges, or other payment for the reporting obligation, which instead arises whenever an alien is given permission to stay in the residence or hotel.  The filing obligation does not come with a filing fee but is due within 24 hours of arrival. Statutory penalties for non-compliance are capped at two thousand baht for a residential owner and ten thousand baht for a hotel manager[note]Id. § 77.[/note], but the more common fee for recent enforcement has been sixteen hundred baht.

It is likely that many renters have been unaware of the TM.30 reporting requirements, which seems to have been enforced only sporadically in the past but nevertheless imposes a conspicuous burden on Thai real estate owners. Notably, notification is due within a short deadline of 24 hours, and the absence of economic consideration to trigger the requirement means that even personal guests, including even the non-Thai spouse of a Thai homeowner, must be reported.

The form itself is not complicated, requiring only the identifying details and address of the homeowner, with an attached schedule to list standard travel details for the alien resident, such as passport, visa, and arrival card numbers.  (The schedule has space for eighteen names, presumably to facilitate single daily reports by hotels.) The information requested may prompt questions as to the policy being served by these reports, as the identifying information requested is identical to that provided in foreigners’ 90-day reports on form TM.47.  

The likely explanation for this is a new emphasis on identifying and locating resident aliens by the government, and the strategy of enforcing landlord reporting to flush out information omitted or neglected by the foreign residents themselves.  Recent news stories certainly point to a renewed emphasis by the national government in locating foreigners who have overstayed their visas, with one recent appointee pledging to achieve perfect compliance with visa rules[note]“No more overstayers, no more corruption at immigration – Hakparn,” TheThaiger.com (Oct. 31, 2018).[/note].  Increased enforcement activity has been observed from multiple corners, with the Straits Times reporting over one thousand arrests for visa overstays in the weeks leading up to October[note][hyperlink: https://www.straitstimes.com/asia/se-asia/thailand-immigrant-crackdown-eyes-dark-skinned-people][/note], and government officials promising to “flush[] out” the remainder of visa overstayers in the near future, apparently motivated by the threat of terrorism and the desire to get the country up to full compliance with reporting obligations[note]“No more overstayers…” supra.[/note]. And although not a scientific poll, posts on social media channels and websites frequented by foreigners living in Thailand similarly report a recent uptick in immigration enforcement of the type reported in Thai newspapers.

For tourism businesses in Thailand, this new emphasis underscores the importance of the government’s immigration reporting scheme and highlights a possible risk of noncompliance. The recent ramp-up in government attention comes on the heels, earlier this year, of moves against room-shares and unregistered vacation rentals[note]Don Ross, “Screws tighten on room rentals,” TTR Weekly (May 18, 2018) (available here [hyperlink: https://www.ttrweekly.com/site/2018/05/screws-on-room-rentals/]).[/note]. While no official government policy change is expected to be forthcoming soon, this increase change in emphasis does lead to the suspicion that tourism businesses renting rooms or residences would be well advised to ensure they meet all their obligations, including prompt reporting, for the foreseeable future.

 



[wp-svg-icons icon=”quill” wrap=”i”]  David Tice

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