Category Archives: Immigration

Guaranteed Cheap, Easy & Absolutely Legal Ways to Get Work Permits & Immigration Visas

Just kidding.  The second biggest headache for most foreigners wanting to do business in Thailand is almost certainly work permits and visas.  There are numerous sources on the web that provide or purport to provide the latest work permit and immigration information and services at the lowest possible cost.  This isn’t one of them.

Instead, we’ll explain why we think this is such a major headache for foreigners in Thailand.  In large part we see two main reasons (there are others).

The first reason involves an extraordinarily broad definition of a legal term that provides officials with tremendous unfettered discretion, a recurring theme in Thai law.  Here, the problem lies in the broad definition of the term “work” under Thai work permit law.  The term work is defined as “engaging in work [seems rather circular at this point, but it goes on to provide the definition as] exerting energy or using knowledge whether or not in consideration of wages or any other benefits.”

Read that definition again.  It specifically says you are engaged in “work” even if you are not getting paid.  It’s hard to see what this definition doesn’t cover.

This definition is broad enough to even include attendance at business meetings, making pitches for products and services and short stays of only a few days to render services or inspect factory sites.   If you walk through the business centre of any major Bangkok hotel, most of the foreigners in that business centre are almost certainly engaged in activities that constitute “work” under Thailand’s work permit law.  And we suspect that few, if any, of those foreigners know they are supposed to have work permits, let alone have them.

Will they get arrested?  Unlikely.  We have never seen the authorities randomly raid the business centre of a five star hotel looking for illegal foreign workers.  Could they get arrested?  That’s a very different question.

It’s not just at hotel business centre that you’ll find foreigners violating Thailand’s work permit laws, but also at offices and factories across Thailand.  Thailand’s travel industry wants to increase business tourism by hosting conventions and seminars.  This makes sense: Thailand is a great place for business events and these sorts of events attract ‘quality’ tourists, the holy grail of the TAT.

But the vast percentage of foreign short-term business visitors to Thailand violate Thailand’s work permit laws.  And this is not a trivial offense.  The law, as it is written, says that foreigners violating work permit laws can be imprisoned for as long as five years.

Even if five year prison terms are not the norm (they aren’t), you would think that the combination of (a) a need for and desire to have foreigners visit Thailand for these short term business purposes, (b) the broad definition of the term “work” and (c) the draconian penalties for engaging in work without a work permit would lead to an easy, hassle free process to routinely grant approval to engage in such “work” upon arrival at the immigration counter with a simple visa stamp.  It’s a no brainer.

But you’d be wrong, and the reason lies in second major problem with Thailand’s legal infrastructure.  Immigration authorities simply cannot grant work permits.  A completely different agency in a separate ministry issues work permits: the Alien Occupations Division of the Ministry of Labour.

This means that a “B” class visa does not allow foreigners to engage in short term activities such as meetings and inspections because such activities constitute “work” under Thailand’s work permit law.  It’s almost seems deceptive, doesn’t it?

The law is so counter-intuitive that it creates an environment where you’d be surprised if any foreigners actually comply with the law.  And that creates opportunities for selective enforcement.

But it goes beyond short business visits.  It also helps explain why the process of getting long term visas and work permits can be so complicated.  This is often why foreigners seeking work permits and visas need to run around to different government offices getting different documents and approvals.  There are websites and forums that thrive because they provide foreigners with a place to vent their frustrations about the whole process.

Many foreigners don’t even bother.  They keep their heads down and hope they don’t get caught.  Enforcement in this area is selective and seems to really depend upon whether someone has an interest in having you arrested.  That someone could be a competitor, a disgruntled former employee, a difficult debtor or a jilted lover; the possibilities are endless. The laws in this area create perverse incentives for non-compliance, evasion and corruption.

This is bad in terms of achieving whatever policy objectives Thai work permit and immigration laws are intended to achieve.  (We can imagine some legitimate policy objectives.)  And it leaves many foreigners vulnerable to selective enforcement.  It’s a lose/lose policy.

Why?  We don’t think, as some suggest, it’s a conspiracy against foreigners, although we appreciate why it often seems like one.  Rather, a large part of this problem exists because two different ministries and departments with different bureaucracies that are often controlled by different political parties with competing agendas make and implement the rules and regulations for work permits and immigration.

But what about the BOI’s “one-stop-shop”?  It does streamline the process of getting visas and work permits, but that is not because one agency is handling the process.  Instead, it is more streamlined because officials from two different agencies are present at the same place to process work permits and visas.  And regulations have been promulgated so that, ideally, they work together and don’t try to trip each other up.  It generally works (a pleasant surprise), but it’s only available to some foreigners.  More important, the mere fact that a one-stop shop is needed to solve this problem also serves to demonstrate the fundamental nature of this problem.

Thai ministries and departments are generally fiefdoms unto themselves.  They often compete with each as if they were fierce business rivals.  Often they are fierce business rivals.  We’re not criticizing the BOI’s one stop shop.  Indeed, it’s a wonder that there is a BOI one-stop shop.

But the BOI’s one-stop shop doesn’t solve all of the headaches created by these two fundamental problems with Thailand’s system of regulating foreigner workers and granting visas so that foreigners can be in Thailand when performing such work.  It helps some, but it doesn’t cover everyone, and it doesn’t solve the underlying problem.  If it did, you wouldn’t see advertisements for work permit and immigration service providers, many of them obviously dodgy, virtually every time you do Google search with word “Thailand” or take a stroll along Sukhumvit.