FOREIGNERS who do regular visa runs in order to extend their stay in Thailand have less than a month before a crackdown by the authorities to enforce immigration laws more strictly, The Nation reports.
From August 13, people will not be able to re-enter the country, regardless of their choice of transport.
The Immigration Bureau has already instructed officials to deny entry to foreigners doing visa runs as a measure to stop the exploitation of tourist visas and visa exemptions to live or work here.
Visa runs have been common among foreigners in Thailand recently, given that a simple search on the Net turns up several companies offering "visa trips" for expatriates staying or working here.
Visa runners are those who leave Thailand and return immediately for the purpose of extending their stay. By exploiting 60-day tourist visas and 30-day visa exemptions, many foreigners can work illegally in language schools, or restaurants and other businesses. It is easier for some to get jobs this way, as some employers do not want to go through the complicated process of seeking work permits and like to avoid the expense if they can.
"I have done visa runs several times before, because my employers would not agree to seek a work permit until I passed their probation period. So, when you stop allowing visa runs, the lives of many foreigners in Thailand will be affected," a 46-year-old American said.
Meanwhile, the Immigration Bureau website says: "Leniency will be granted until August 12, but only for passengers arriving by air. Foreigners who come to Thailand must seek a proper visa in line with the purpose of their intended stay here."
Now, those on a visa run who are allowed back in will find an "O-I" (Out-In) mark next to their latest stamp marking entry. From August 13, nobody with an O-I sign on their passport will be allowed to re-enter Thailand if they cannot produce a proper visa.
The Immigration Bureau has instructed checkpoints on shared borders to stop visa runners from entering the Kingdom effective immediately.
Immigration Division 6 chief Pol Maj-General Tatchai Pitaneelabut, who oversees immigration affairs in the South, said visa runners come from several countries, including Vietnam, South Korea and Russia.
"They come here to work as tour guides, waiters, waitresses, etc," he said, pointing out that these visa-runners are often based in tourist centres such as Phuket and Songkhla.
However, he said the presence of the so-called "out-in" migrants in the South had been significantly reduced because immigration officials were already enforcing stricter laws.
Pol Lt-Colonel Weerawat Nilwat, an inspector at the Sungai Kolok border checkpoint in Narathiwat province, disclosed that immigration officials at his workplace had already barred more than 100 visa-runners from re-entering the Kingdom.
"We have to be strict because we have to uphold laws and properly control immigrants. Efficiency on this front will also reduce crime," he said.
Pol Colonel Thirachai Dedkhad, the superintendent at the Sa Kaew checkpoint, said officials under his supervision were not stopping visa runners from re-entering yet. "But we have been warning them to acquire a proper visa before they come to Thailand the next time."
He said immigration officials had also warned people departing that they must obtain a proper visa if they want to come back.
"We have made it clear that if they want to work in Thailand, they must seek a work permit and get the right type of visa," Thirachai said.