In March, the Immigration Bureau resurrected the draconian regulation known as TM30 with the aim of keeping track of foreigners' whereabouts. It is legitimate to wonder whether any foreign criminals have disclosed their movements to authorities via the TM30 form.
The possibility seems unlikely, even though this is the ultimate goal of the latest enforcement of this regulation. What is certain, though, is that it has blighted the lives of law-abiding foreigners with a hellish web of paperwork.
Over the past couple of months, a broad spectrum of expat communities here have chorused their disagreement with the regulation, sharing experiences of how the law has made their stay in the country unnecessarily complicated and is affecting the ease of doing business and investment here.
This diverse feedback should be treated as strong enough evidence for Thailand to put an end to the hassle. And a solution could be as simple as amending the 1979 Immigration Act. But the outpouring of expat frustration seems to have fallen on deaf ears in government.
The regulation was made at a time when the country was facing an influx of Vietnamese and Cambodians fleeing conflicts at home, and authorities understandably wanted to keep an eye on them. This was also a time when the number of foreigners was just a small fraction of the current figure.
The Immigration Act's Section 38 requires that landlords must report the presence of any foreign tenants to authorities within 24 hours of their arrival.
Section 37 imposes the same rule on foreigners. They must report their nightly whereabouts, as and when they move around the country.
Failure to report means a fine of 800 to 2,000 baht and also the risk that the foreigner may be denied extension or renewal of their visa or work permit.
As time went by, the regulation fell into disuse, largely because it was no longer practical and too rigid. Reporting foreigners' whereabouts to authorities was mainly done by hotel operators on a weekly basis to comply with the 2004 Hotel Act.
In the absence of TM30 enforcement, the country had been efficiently managing expats and tourists via the hotel law and other immigration regulations. Everyone seemed to be happy, until the TM30 rule was dusted off and began baffling both Thai landlords and expats.
The Immigration Bureau has cited national security as the reason for enforcing the law again, expressing concern over foreign criminals who stay here for extended periods.
But immigration officials' mission to keep "bad guys out" must now be bogged down by the huge volume of paperwork triggered by the revival of TM30 rules.
Ensuring public safety is a noble cause. But it won't be achieved by applying the toothless and outdated TM30 regulation as a blanket measure that treats all foreigners as criminal suspects whose movements need to be strictly monitored.
Officials appear to have forgotten that this self-disclosure measure only affects law-abiding people. Criminals or terrorists will not be as naive as to tip off authorities about their movements or even inform their landlords.
Authorities must come up with alternative anti-terrorism and anti-crime strategies if they want to stay a step ahead of foreign criminals.
The TM30 has done more harm than good. The government and parliamentarians should push for amendments to the Immigration Act to do away with it.