In an interview with the <i>Bangkok Post</i>, chairman of the Joint Foreign Chambers of Commerce in Thailand (JFCCT) Stanley Kang called for the government to review the enforcement of the draconian TM30 immigration reporting regulation for expatriates, overseas students and foreign retirees, citing a slew of negative impacts not only on those affected but also on investment from abroad and the country's image.
Basically, landlords who provide accommodation to foreigners are required to report the foreigners' presence to immigration officials within 24 hours of their arriving or leaving the accommodation. Meanwhile, foreigners are also obliged to report their whereabouts within 24 hours when they stay at locations other than their primary residence, even if they visit other provinces on short breaks or are returning to Thailand from abroad. Those who fail to comply, both Thais and foreigners, face hefty fines while non-renewal of long-stay visas is also a possibility.
What are the problems with the TM30 regulation?
A huge number of foreigners travel or do business in Thailand. You can see the massive amount of arrivals and departures at the airports. People board flights like they are taking taxis.
There is no problem with those [foreigners] staying at hotels because the staff there file reports [with immigration] two times a day. However, what should I do if I arrive at and leave my rented accommodation every week? It is burdensome for landlords to file TM30 forms for their foreign tenants.
Most importantly, even landlords don't know they are required to notify immigration officials [when foreigners come and go]. When foreigners come to Thailand, they travel to other provinces on the weekends. Most of them stay at hostels, which do not file TM30 reports.
Our members have said that some guesthouses are now putting up "no foreigners" signs [to avoid difficulties]. I am now hesitant to let my foreign friends stay overnight with me because I have to file TM30 reports for them.
What are the JFCCT's proposals?
We are proposing regulatory reform. I understand the TM30 regulation was enforced in 1979 to keep tabs on an influx of migrant workers from Myanmar, Laos and Cambodia. Employers [of migrants] have to provide housing and file reports when they enter and leave the country once or twice a year. However, this is different from business travellers. Regulators should not treat all foreigners the same way.
We suggest certain groups be removed from the TM30 regulation [reporting requirement]. Work permit holders with business visas should be exempt because companies have built or rented accommodation to them.
Similarly, retirement visa holders should be exempt from the requirement because they have received permission to live here and have permanent places of residence and paid deposit money. For example, my mother has a retirement visa and has bought her own condominium. When she enters and leaves her home, she has to file TM30 reports, both as a landlord and a tenant. It is all very complicated.
Foreign students should be removed from the requirement. When they study here, they often travel to other provinces on weekends. Do you want to lock them up in their rooms?
Expats with long-term visas should not be subject to the TM30 requirement because they normally file 90-day reports [of their current addresses]. Visitors who are not staying in registered hotels [hostels and personal residences] should also be exempt from this regulation.
Will TM30 affect assessments of the ease of doing business in Thailand?
Of course it will. Landlords are now unwilling to rent accommodation to foreigners working here because it is burdensome for them to file TM30 reports. Thailand has many foreign professionals. For instance, thousands of Japanese expats often go on business trips. Do you think landlords can put up with the onerous task of submitting TM30 reports?
Can the TM30 regulation prevent criminals from hiding out in Thailand?
I agree national security matters because terrorism is widespread. However, other security measures are already in place. The TM30 regulation has caused difficulties for law-abiding foreigners to the extent that it has destroyed Thailand's image. I don't think criminals file reports on their own whereabouts.
Some people have told me that Singapore hands out Sim cards that can track users. The TM30 regulation is outdated. Regulators should be one step ahead of criminals and should not treat all foreigners as if they are in the same category.
When Thais go abroad and stay overnight, do you think landlords have to file reports for them? Asean countries don't enforce reporting rules. Thailand is the exception. When I visit Vietnam, I can travel around the country freely.
Does the TM30 rule aim to tackle the illegal renting of properties?
It is possible, but better ways should be found. When I rent a condo, I have to sign a one-year contract, which I can use to renew my visa. However, the TM30 rule makes it more difficult. How can landlords know when their foreign tenants arrive or leave their condos? How can they report their presence?
Officials are now asking for TM30 forms from foreigners when they extend their visas. If expats don't have these documents [which they should have received from landlords in the first place], they will be fined. It doesn't make sense.
Has the JFCCT raised the matter with the Immigration Bureau or the government?
We meet ministers, but as you know, the new government has just taken office and must have been busy. Accordingly, I am not in a hurry to meet them. I have to take some time to see how we can work with the coalition government. When they are free, I will discuss the matter with them.
Meanwhile, we have studied the TM30 regulation and the complaints which have come in since its strict enforcement in March. As more and more expats have been crying foul, the JFCCT has reached a unanimous decision that I should voice concerns about the issue.
Will the TM30 rule gain more traction if the bureau improves its online reporting system?
I would like to ask how Thai people view the TM30 regulation. If your foreign friends come and stay at your place, will you file paper or online reports for them every time? National security does matter, but where is our privacy?
Instead of enforcing the TM30 rule, authorities should screen foreigners before giving them visas and letting them enter the country. Officials should simplify and improve procedures to make them more efficient. The number of foreign criminals here makes up a very small portion of all the expats in Thailand.