Prawit pours cold water on visa plan

Prawit pours cold water on visa plan

'Easy access' for Indians, Chinese concerns DPM

Visitors queue up for visa extension at the Immigration Division 1 on Chaeng Watthana Road in Bangkok. (File photo by Pattarapong Chatpattarasill)
Visitors queue up for visa extension at the Immigration Division 1 on Chaeng Watthana Road in Bangkok. (File photo by Pattarapong Chatpattarasill)

Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwon on Monday weighed in on the Tourism and Sports Ministry's proposal to waive visa requirements for Chinese and Indian tourists to stimulate the economy, saying he disagreed with granting them "easy access".

Gen Prawit's comments echoed concerns raised by the Foreign Ministry which warned of a potentially massive influx of tourists from China and India who might exploit the measure to escape from hardship and settle illegally in Thailand.

"The Foreign Ministry objects to it. Both China and India have huge populations of around 1.3 billion people. I disagree with allowing them easy access," Gen Prawit said.

The visa waiver proposal, expected to be tabled to the cabinet for consideration on Tuesday, was agreed at a meeting of economic ministers last Friday as a measure to stimulate the economy.

Proposed by the Tourism and Sports Ministry, under the supervision of the Bhumjaithai Party, the proposal seeks to allow tourists from China and India to stay in Thailand for up to 30 days without needing to apply for a formal visa. It is estimated that the plan will cost the government about 12-13 billion baht in lost annual visa fee revenue.

The Tourism and Sports Ministry wanted to launch the initiative for one year on Nov 1, but the Foreign Ministry has warned the waiving of visas needs careful consideration as it will have widespread repercussions on national and economic security.

Foreign Minister Don Pramudwinai insisted yesterday the ministry is not "singling out" any country in its opposition to the proposal. Rather, Thailand needs time to improve its infrastructure in order to be able to host more visitors from these countries, he added.

He said visas are part of standard screening measures and increase the country's efficiency in providing safety to its guests.

"We thank all visitors but we can't accept them all if we're not ready. We'll try to increase our capacity. The main point is that we have to manage [our resources] more efficiently. When we have a good system, we believe visitors will come back," he said.

Surachai Sirikrai, a special lecturer at Thammasat University's faculty of political science, said the government should use information from relevant state agencies to analyse the risk of tourists exploiting the system.

He said the proposal could pose a threat to national and economic security if statistics from authorities concerned such as the Immigration Bureau indicate that illegal long stays are likely to increase.

Mr Surachai warned of an apparent lack of effective measures to prevent foreign tourists from violating the terms of their stays such as by working without a permit or overstaying.

"Several countries like South Korea and Japan also use visa waiver programmes to stimulate the economy, but unlike Thailand, they have good measures to keep the tourists from hiding and staying illegally," he said.

Tourism and Sports Minister Phiphat Ratchakitprakarn insisted he will put the visa waiver plan to the cabinet for consideration on Tuesday and brushed aside concerns over the possibility of an increase in overstayers.

He said he was confident in the ability of Thai police to track down illegal immigrants and those who overstay their visas.

Finance Minister Uttama Savanayana on Monday also shrugged off any impact that the proposal being rejected might have, saying the Finance Ministry had other measures to stimulate the economy.

"If it is concluded the measure isn't necessary, it won't affect the overall picture of the ministry's economic stimulus plan. The planned measures focus on boosting local spending too," he said.

A source at the Bhumjaithai Party said ties between the party and the core coalition party will not be affected by Gen Prawit's opposition to the proposal.

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