Every now and again we see announcements of new long-term visas. In addition to the five-year visas for Elite cardholders, we have recently heard of a new 10-year retirement visa and now we have these four-year business visas for a highly select group. What is puzzling about these visas is that the 1979 Immigration Act only provides for visas of a maximum one year (Section 35.3), except in the case of investors in businesses approved by the relevant ministries and departments who may receive two-year visas (Sections 35.4 and 34.6). That means that in reality there can be no four or five-year visas. According to the law these visas have to be renewed every one or two years. There may be pre-approval for the renewal but the holders will definitely have to go to the trouble to report to immigration for renewals one or more times before the visas have ostensibly expired, thus defeating much of the purpose.
It seems high time the 1979 Immigration Act was repealed and replaced with a more up-to-date piece of legislation that can accommodate things like multi-year business and retirement visas that are commonplace in other countries in the region.
The law was promulgated only six months after the first Working of Aliens Act mandated work permits for the first time.
It is obvious that it was drafted without taking account of the fact that work permits had already come into being, since there is no reference to them whatsoever.
On the other hand, a fair bit of the Immigration Act is to do with permanent residence, which at that time was relatively easy to obtain and was the preferred choice for most foreign businessmen planning to stay in Thailand for more than one or two years.
At any rate most of the substance of Thai immigration law is not in the Act itself but in the multitude of ministerial regulations and national police orders issued pursuant to the Act over the subsequent decades, constituting a labyrinthine maze that is almost impossible for foreigners to navigate.
The current government recently decided that repealing the 2008 Working of Aliens Act was a matter of such urgency that it unexpectedly scrapped it and replaced it by Royal Decree, thus avoiding the time needed for public hearings for an Act of Parliament under the new constitution.
It would be consistent with that move and, indeed, fitting to update the 38 year-old Immigration Act that is creaking at the seams and replace it with a new law that enables coordination with work permit legislation and is more appropriate for Thailand’s current needs.
That way the government could also mean what it says when it talks about long-term visas.