Japan’s June 2013 decision to waive entry-visa requirements for holders of Thai passports opened the floodgates for a surge in visitors from the Kingdom. Since then more citizens of the Land of Smiles have travelled to the Land of the Rising Sun than in any other period in modern history. Last year alone nearly a million Thais went there. In fact, of the 10 overseas cities visited most by Thais last year, seven were in Japan.
Japan’s relative closeness and the purchasing power of the baht against the yen have been a boon to tourism emanating from Thailand, and many Thais – at least those with the wherewithal – have visited multiple times in the past two years. The Japanese government has gone so far as to formally express its appreciation on behalf of its retail and hospitality industries for the influx in Thai tourists.
Almost inevitably, however, there has been a downside to the increase in Thai visitors to Japan. A significant number of our fellow citizens have overstayed their travel visas and many are working there illegally. Before the visa requirement was waived, these were not worrying issues. Now they are.
The Thai government, through its embassy in Tokyo and consulate in Osaka, has repeatedly warned prospective travellers that employment opportunities offered by middlemen are all too often scams. Each year hundreds of Thais are lured into fields of work ranging from construction and industry to entertainment and jobs in the service sector – and none of them comes with the required work permit. Being illegally employed, they are at the mercy of their local bosses and the middlemen, beholden to them both financially and as a matter of personal security.
Our embassy in Tokyo recently urged anyone in violation of visa rules to come forward and seek help in being repatriated. The embassy has in the past covered the airfare to send violators home, only to discover that some quickly found their way back to Japan.
The embassy says there are currently 5,595 Thais residing illegally in Japan, up from about 3,400 last year, a jump that embarrasses the Thai government. Japanese authorities have thus far been tolerant and magnanimous and are not reconsidering the Thai visa waiver. They readily acknowledge that far more South Koreans and Chinese are remaining in the country illegally. But something has to be done nevertheless to stem the rising tide of Thais abusing their generosity.
The onus is on Thai authorities to be vigilant in regulating agencies that offer overseas employment. They must make sure Thais aren’t being deceived about easily obtained, higher-paying jobs in Japan that in fact don’t exist. Our labour officials should be tracking down and prosecuting the middlemen who exploit Thai workers desperate to improve their lot. And the Thai embassy’s warning – that job opportunities no longer abound in Japan due to a stubborn economic slump there – should be widely publicised.
Until more sweeping measures take effect, the government should be ready at any time to financially assist Thais who have violated Japan’s visa regulations and wish to come home. That should extend to helping them repay debts incurred abroad as a result of an employment ruse.
Our country’s relationship with Japan is too important to be undermined by a problem that, in the final analysis, is entirely manageable. Japan is increasingly open to visitors from the other nations of Southeast Asia as well, and locales elsewhere in Asia, such as Taiwan, are following its example. With ease of travel come improved communication, better understanding and greater trust. We can’t allow such a rewarding arrangement to be damaged.
Published : December 29, 2016
By : The Nation