The government has defended a bill to allow foreigners categorised under four specific groups to apply for permission to buy up to 1 rai of land on the condition they invest at least 40 million baht each for at least three years.
The bill is simply an amendment to the ministerial regulation that has been in existence since 2002, said government spokesman Anucha Buraphachaisri.
The amendment, if passed, will apply to four groups of foreigners who hold Long-Term Resident (LTR) visas under a recently introduced scheme to attract foreign investment, he said.
High wealth individuals; well-to-do pensioners; work-from-Thailand professionals and highly skilled professionals or specialists, are the specific groups being courted, he said.
The cabinet agreed with the proposal at its weekly meeting on Tuesday, and the bill is now being reviewed by the Council of State, the government's legal arm, he said.
In practice, these potential foreign investors will have to first meet the minimum 40-million-baht investment requirement before they can apply for permission to buy land of at most 1 rai (1,600m²) for residential purposes in Bangkok, Pattaya City, as well as other municipalities and zones specified as residential areas under the target city's planning laws, he said.
They can choose to invest in bonds issued by the government, real estate or infrastructure funds, or real estate investment trusts. The scheme will be in effect for five years after publication in the Royal Gazette.
Such land ownership can still always be revoked in case the land owner breaks the conditions of the ministerial regulation concerned, he said.
Since the ministerial regulation took effect in 2002, only eight foreigners have been granted permission to own land in Thailand, he said, citing information provided by the Department of Lands.
The Pheu Thai Party, meanwhile, says it opposes the plan to allow eligible foreigners to own land, saying it would not truly benefit the economy or Thais.
The regulation would have adverse effects on many Thais who still do not own houses or land, and future generations may not be able to afford to purchase land because of the higher prices, the opposition coalition said yesterday.
The 2002 government led by the Thai Rak Thai Party, an earlier incarnation of the Pheu Thai party, passed the regulation on foreign land ownership in 2002 because it had to meet the International Monetary Fund's debt repayment terms following the 1997 financial meltdown.
However, the proposed scheme of the current government was a result of its failure to address the economic problems, the parties said.
Hasadin Suwatanapongched, secretary-general of the northeastern federation of industries, called for an urgent revision of the bill, saying it could provide a legal loophole for dishonest foreigners to operate grey businesses.
Suphan Mongkolsuthee, chairman of the board of directors of the Federation of Thai Industries (FTI), who now serves as a deputy leader of Thai Sang Thai Party, said he supports this idea, albeit with the funds investment required altered to reflect the value of the land.
Up to 400 billion baht will be earned instantly if 10,000 such foreigners buy land in Thailand, he said.
Former Palang Pracharath MP Pareena Kraikupt, who is banned for life for using a 665-rai forest reserve as a poultry farm, posted on Facebook yesterday saying Thais do not want foreigners to own land.
She said she wants land in the country to be reserved for Thais so they don't have to pay foreigners rent in the future.