Expats who leave Thailand on ‘visa runs’ so they can extend their stay face a crackdown by immigration officials.
The government claims expats avoid immigration rules by dodging in and out of the country on tourist visas.
From September, expats who have left Thailand and try to get back into the country on a tourist visa or by claiming a visa exemption will be barred entry.
Visa exploitation is common in Thailand, with several companies offering organised trips for groups of expats to abuse the rules.
By extending their 30 or 60 day tourist visas every few weeks, expats can stay in Thailand and often take jobs teaching in English language schools, run bars or just overstay their permitted time with impunity.
Now, the new military government has decided visa runners have outstayed their welcome and is acting to keep them out of the country unless they formalise their immigration status.
The Thai Immigration Bureau has already tightened border controls.
The agency’s official web site carries a statement warning expats that anyone attempting to over stay their visa from August 12, 2014 faces strict penalties – unless they arrive by air.
“Expats must have the correct visa documents in line with the reason why they are coming into the country,” said an Immigration Bureau spokesman.
To monitor visa runs, passport control at border check points and airports will introduce a special ‘out-in’ stamp for expat travel documents.
The Immigration Bureau warns any expat with an ‘out-in’ stamp on their passport will not be allowed re-entry unless they have the correct visa paperwork.
Checkpoint bars 100 expats
One border checkpoint at Sungai Kolok has already stopped more than 100 visa runners from several countries – including Britain, Russia, Vietnam and South Korea.
“Many of these expats come into the country on a tourist visa and then take jobs teaching, working in bars and acting as tour guides,” said the spokesman.
“We are tightening the rules so we know who is legally in Thailand and who is not. This is also a measure to stop crime.
“Expats are welcome in Thailand – they just need to make sure they have the right visa for their stay.”
Thailand is a popular stop-off for British expat backpackers and a retirement destination – but the new Thai regime has decided to tighten immigration rules to make sure expats pay tax.