During a recent trip to Austria, I was surprised _ in a pleasant way _ with the immigration procedure which allowed incoming passengers to enter the country without the use of that tiny, white immigration form.
Immigration officers at the airport just briefly checked the passport and those travellers, of all races and colours, with proper visas were simply allowed to walk through.
As the officers didn't have to check through the tiny immigration form, the process was quick and convenient. No long, snaking queues. And that was really good news for those who had completed a long transcontinental trip.
It's the same practice for outgoing passengers: No forms. Just a brief check of the passport to make sure that one did not overstay the permitted period.
I understand that, like Austria, most countries in the EU _ the UK being a notable exception _ have implemented this no-forms procedure.
There is no official record of when the procedure took effect or why it was implemented, but it is good and sensible, not just in terms of management but also for the environment.
Look at Austria alone: In 2007, nearly 30 million tourists visited the country _ a number which will likely be much higher now. If a passenger had been required to have an "in" and "out" form, as we have in Thailand, around 60 million forms would have been needed for those travellers.
We need to cut down trees to make the paper which _ for this immigration form in particular _ simply becomes waste that requires energy to get rid of a short time later.
But isn't Austria and most of the EU afraid of illegal migration? Of course they are. In fact, illegal immigration is a major concern for all Western countries. Each traveller wanting to visit the EU or the United States _ for travel or business reasons _ is required to go through a strict visa application process, aimed at preventing illegal migration.
Many documents are required to prove to embassy officials that the traveller will not stay on illegally in the country.
We have been made to believe that Thailand's tiny white form is an important part of our journey. But is it, really?
Think about it: Can it efficiently prevent anything? Is the form helpful when it comes to security?
Is there any useful information that immigration officers can learn about passengers from that white form, in addition to the paperwork they have submitted at the respective embassies for their visa applications? Flight number, perhaps?
In this digital age, there are more efficient tools available that would enable immigration officers to gain information about individual passengers without using this form.
And besides, if anyone decides to become an illegal immigrant, this form will not do anything to prevent that.
Austria's thoughtful no-forms procedure flashed to my mind early this week when I saw a number of agencies preparing for various "for the environment" activities as Thailand joined the international community in celebrating World Environment Day on Wednesday.
Unfortunately, some of the activities added more to the waste problem. Others were questionable in terms of energy saving.
At the national level, the government, which encourages the public to cherish the environment, is simultaneously preparing for projects that would cause huge adverse environmental impacts _ such as coal-fired power plants and dams _ while paying little attention to cheap and efficient measures like demand-side management.
It's time we do more than simply give lip service to improving our environment.
While the no-forms immigration procedure appears to be a meaningful one, it may take time before our immigration officers see the positive side of it. I understand that change is not made easily in any bureaucratic agency.
But at least give it a thought. How about starting with Thai nationals? That could save a lot of paper and effort.
Even making a small start can lead to big things for environmental protection.
Ploenpote Atthakor is Deputy Editorial Pages Editor, Bangkok Post.
About the author
- Writer: Ploenpote Atthakor
Position: Deputy Editorial Pages Editor