At a time when the tourism industry needs a shot in the arm, perhaps the last thing the Immigration Bureau should do is resuscitate an outdated rule to make the lives of foreigners and Thais more difficult -- but that's what the bureau has done with the dreaded TM30 form.
The TM30 is a notification form for Thai landlords providing accommodation to foreigners to report their presence to the authorities within 24 hours, and every time the foreigner returns to the country.
Besides accommodation owners, the TM30 rule requires foreigners to report their nightly whereabouts, as and when they move around the country away from their primary residence, again within 24 hours.
The regulation has been on the books for 40 years, though it has not been enforced strictly until an abrupt decision by the powers-that-be at the Immigration Bureau on March 25 this year.
The regulation, Article 37 of the 1979 Immigration Act, is ostensibly to boost national security. Given increasing risks from terrorism, the bureau says it has come across cases of foreign criminals making extended stays in-country; hence the crackdown.
Terrorism and criminality are undoubtedly legitimate concerns and the bureau's heart is in the right place in wanting to prevent Thailand from becoming a safe haven for villains. Nevertheless, it is questionable whether the majority of people caught up in the TM30 dragnet -- Thai landlords, foreign retirees, foreigners married to Thais, and foreigners working in fields providing much-needed expertise, among others -- constitute a clear and present danger to national security.
Indeed, most have already been vetted by Immigration, and so should surely be on the list of "good guys", with reference to the bureau's slogan of "Good guys in, bad guys out". Long-term foreign stayers in Thailand, besides facing scrutiny by Immigration on an annual basis must already report their address every 90 days. Surely the current paperwork is already more than adequate to keep track of them?
Just last week, Acting Immigration Chief Pol Lt Sompong Chingduang declared that the TM30 process would continue to be imposed strictly, but that it could be done easily online or via an app. Sadly, neither the app nor the website appear to work reliably.
For expats, spending even one night away from a reported residence, including at a hospital, also requires a new TM30 form to be submitted within 24 hours. This stringent requirement has meant that many expats say they have simply stopped travelling around the country, with their own families or with friends from overseas.
Long-term expats were already having a horrendous year even before TM30 as regulations were also changed for applications for retirement visas. In exasperation at the enforcement of TM30, a group of foreigners in the Northeast launched a petition on Saturday calling for the requirement to be reviewed.
Some of the group's points are valid and merit serious attention from the authorities, specifically that: "Technology has become better and better, and reporting addresses on paper, in person, is not efficient and counterproductive."
Perhaps it would be better if the whole TM30 palaver were quietly reviewed, as the acting immigration chief appeared to hint at when questioned by the Bangkok Post on Monday, to make it "good guy"-friendly.
This blanket policy affecting the law-abiding majority will likely do little to help track down the "bad guys" -- terrorists and other criminals. And instead of the shot in the tourism industry arm that Thailand could really do with, TM30 seems more like a shot in the foot.