By Pravit Rojanaphruk and Teeranai Charuvastra
BANGKOK — A representative for the national police force said on Friday immigration officers who fail to process cases swiftly are liable for punishment.
Royal Thai Police spokesman Krissana Pattanacharoen said the immigration bureau is required to follow policies of efficient work as instructed by police commissioner Chakthip Chaijinda. He spoke amid growing uproar from foreign residents over tougher enforcement of immigration laws, in spite of the snail’s pace of immigration bureaucracy that makes following regulations difficult.
“Our job is to make sure [officers] do the work properly. We are their supervisors,” Col. Krissana said in an interview. “If they can’t do it, there is no other option than handing down punishment.”
In response to complaints from expats that they are being forced to wait weeks or even months for immigration to process simple tasks, Krissana insisted the police commissioner has enacted policies that aim at speedy procedures.
“The policies are there. They are good policies, but it depends on the people who implement them,” the spokesman said.
Krissana spoke a day after two immigration officials insisted at a panel discussion that the official channel for expats to report their residence is working as intended, even as anecdotes point otherwise.
Some expats have taken to social media to complain that they have to wait several weeks to receive usernames for the immigration’s online reporting system, even though immigration officials continue to enforce a decades-old rule that foreign residents must make a report every time they leave their registered address for more than 24 hours.
Krissana wouldn’t comment directly on what was said at last night’s panel, but said the immigration police should stick to reality.
“Before they make a promise or a claim, they have to make sure that their system is working properly,” the spokesman said.
At the heart of the controversy is the TM30 form. Under the 1979 immigration law, non-immigrant foreigners must complete the form to specify a change of residence (defined as leaving the existing residence for more than 24 hours) within 48 hours, even if they leave just for a night. They must file another form when they return.
Although the law has been in place for decades, it has been strictly enforced only recently, much to the inconvenience of foreigners and their Thai landlords. Tourists are usually spared from the hassle as hotel staff file the TM30 form on their behalf.
Maj. Gen. Patipat Suban na Ayudhaya, the commander of Immigration Police Division 1 which covers Bangkok, promised to look into the issues but promised neither a timeline nor results.
“We’re gonna bring the problems to my commanders when we meet in order to change the rules for good guys like you. But we don’t know when we will be done,” Patipat said. “We will try our best to distinguish between the good guys and bad guys. I promise all of you: we try.”
Speaking at the panel organized by the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Thailand, longtime British expat Richard Barrow said he wants to see consistency and clarity.
He said forcing an expat to file a TM30 report simply because they want to leave Bangkok for Pattaya for a night, and to file another when back in Bangkok, doesn’t make any sense.
“This is going to affect domestic tourism. I asked an immigration officer about it and he said: “Travel less!””
Immigration police themselves appear overwhelmed by the newly enforced measures.
Immigration superintendent Col. Thatchapong Sarawanangkul said he has to work until 10pm every day in order to cope with the number of online TM30 application forms coming into the system, even though his wife is about to deliver a baby in several weeks.
“You didn’t know if the foreigners coming to you are good guys or not. Immigration is trying to check for your safety. For the country too,” Thatchapong said.
Krissana, the police spokesman, who once worked in the immigration bureau, concluded the agency has to strike a balance between the need for security and a good service mentality.
“Of course, the top and foremost priority of immigration is to be the gatekeeper of the country, and to safeguard national security. But once they [foreigners] are already inside our country, they must be treated with good service,” Krissana said.