Free visa for tourists from China raises crime concerns

Free visa for tourists from China raises crime concerns

Illegal elements 'may slip' into the country

A free-visa travel privilege for Chinese visitors proposed by new Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin could lead to more transnational crime, according to the Immigration Bureau (IB).

The policy championed by Mr Srettha is set for launch on Oct 1 to attract more Chinese visitors, who previously made up most tourist arrivals. Despite the easing of Covid-19, the number of Chinese visitors has not made a strong rebound.

Adith Chairattananon, honorary secretary-general of the Association of Thai Travel Agents (Atta), said earlier that many Chinese are not in the mood to travel overseas in light of the economic pressure and the weak yuan though it might not be a critical concern as the baht has also weakened.

Negative images of Thailand are circulating on Chinese social media, particularly regarding safety, which makes them reluctant to travel, Mr Adith said.

The Atta has also noted many Chinese travel companies have yet to recover due to a lack of workers and higher operating costs, unlike big firms that can rapidly adjust their businesses.

The plan to offer the free visas has divided opinions as Mr Srettha is reportedly discussing the issue with security and related agencies. Some tourism-related businesses are concerned that greater ease of entry would unleash an influx of Chinese criminals.

IB chief Pol Lt Gen Pakphumpipat Sajjapan on Monday said that an offer of a free visa could create a loophole through which operators of call centre gangs, illegal businesses and other transnational crimes could slip into the country.

He said the IB's workload would multiply trying to catch such elements once they have entered the country.

The planned policy, it is feared, would also worsen congestion at immigration counters. But Pol Lt Gen Pakphumpipat said the bureau was ready to follow a free-visa policy.

The IB would need to prepare measures to alleviate airport crowding due to the expected spike in Chinese visitors. For instance, all immigration check-in counters must be fully opened during peak arrival hours.

The IB was looking to designate dedicated immigration lanes for Chinese passport holders. Pol Lt Gen Pakphumpipat added the IB unsuccessfully asked the Airports of Thailand to allocate more space for immigration checkpoints at international airports.

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