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Thailand rules for foreigners sparks debate

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BANGKOK (Bangkok Post) – The private sector and government are at odds over a new push by immigration officials to enforce the TM30 regulation, requiring landlords of foreign residents to report to Immigration if a tenant leaves his or her residence for over 24 hours.

While TM30 is technically part of the 1979 Immigration Law, the government recently decided to enforce it more strictly and potentially deny visa renewals for those failing to comply.

The government says the enforcement is mainly a national security measure to prevent criminals from hiding out in Thailand and to thwart terrorist attacks.

According to IDC, an IT research firm, Thailand has over 2 million foreign workers that this regulation would affect, in addition to retirees and other long-term foreign residents.

Many expats say the law is burdensome, having to report to their landlord (or if they own their own home, the immigration office) for everything from weekend trips to Pattaya or even if they have overseas friends and family spending the night.

Filing online sounds simple, but some foreigners are complaining that it takes as long as 4-6 weeks to get login credentials, and in the meantime landlords must queue up at immigration offices, waiting in long lines every time their tenants take a quick trip.

Some businesses fear this bureaucratic overreach could dissuade skilled foreign workers from coming to Thailand – and even harm tourism numbers.

Many sectors, especially Thailand’s burgeoning tech startup scene, rely on foreign expertise that may be lacking in the local workforce.

Rui Guo, managing director of Jiaranai Entertainment Co, a Chinese media company in Thailand, said TM30 should be revoked.

“The rules do not make sense,” said Ms Guo, 39, who was born in Beijing and has spent more than 30 years in Thailand. “They make the lives of expats like me more difficult.”

She said that if she goes to the provinces to work or travel and wants to spend longer than 24 hours, staying at her friend’s home, she is required to report to a local immigration office within 24 hours.

When she is back in Bangkok, she must also report to the Bangkok immigration office, she said.

Siriwat Vongjarukorn, president of IT services company MFEC, said dealing with forms is not the proper mechanism to detect bad guys. Instead he recommends using facial recognition or image detection in real time as a more effective means of security.

However, not everyone in the private sector is as resolutely against the issue.

“To my understanding, Thailand is not alone in trying to keep tabs on visiting foreigners,” said Alexandra Reich, chief executive of Total Access Communication (DTAC). “In France, the process to host a foreigner in one’s home is even more complex than TM30. In Germany and Austria, it’s more relaxed. So I really don’t feel I should question or judge the procedure, but would encourage the respective parties in Thailand to discuss and review TM30. Do they feel it makes Thailand safer, and is it an effective tool?

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