BANGKOK — Heightened security prompted by intel about a suspected militant attempting to enter Thailand have led to stricter security checks during the New Year holidays that mean longer lines for tourists seeking visas on arrival at Suvarnabhumi Airport.
Citing the need to prevent criminals from entering Thailand during the season, immigration police will run thorough background checks on those applying for such visas, said Maj. Gen. Pruettipong Prayoonsiri, who’s in charge of the airport’s passport controls.
“Embassies take seven to 15 days to deliberate on visa applications,” Pruettipong said. “But at our counters, we have only three minutes to work. We have to interview and run background checks. Our priority is national security, so there might be some delays.”
On Saturday, a suspected ISIS militant was arrested at Karachi Airport trying to board a Thai Airways International flight to Bangkok, said Special Branch Police commander Chayapol Chatchaidet.
The suspect, a Malaysian national, was smuggling four guns in his luggage, according to the Daily Pakistan.
Chayapol said there were no specific known threats at the time. Nonetheless, deputy police commissioner Srivara Ransibrahmanaku, who’s in charge of national security, has ordered all border checkpoints to be on full alert during the holiday season.
“We never let our guard down,” Maj. Gen. Chayapol said.
Pruettipong added, “We have always been strict in our procedures, but the point is, during the New Year holiday there will be more passengers … up to a 20 percent increase over normal.”
Tourists from 21 nations and territories are eligible to apply for the visa on arrival. They are Andorra, Bhutan, Bulgaria, China, Cyprus, Ethiopia, Fiji, India, Kazakhstan, Latvia, Lithuania, Maldives, Malta, Mauritius, Papua New Guinea, Romania, San Marino, Saudi Arabia, Taiwan, Ukraine and Uzbekistan.
Pruettipong said tourists should expect to wait about an hour in line.
“The lines will keep flowing,” the officer said. “We have added more officers. We have analyzed all the info – which flights will land at what time.”
He also disputed media reports which quoted an immigration official saying lines could be as long as four hours.