Thailand considers visa rule changes to lure expats, long-term tourists

Bangkok

THAILAND'S government could revamp immigration rules this year to make it easier for expats and long-term tourists to stay in the country, part of a strategy to boost investment and tourism revenue once the pandemic eases.

"Immigration rules are the key pain point" for foreigners working in Thailand, said Chayotid Kridakorn, a former head of JPMorgan Securities (Thailand) who is currently leading a government task force to smooth investment into Thailand.

Authorities contend that making it easier for foreign companies to bring in skilled workers and for Western retirees to stay in Thailand will boost the economy, which suffered its biggest contraction in more than two decades last year.

Gross domestic product growth will not return to pre-Covid levels until the third quarter of 2022, said the Bank of Thailand (BOT).

A detailed framework to boost investment and tourism will be proposed to the government's economic panel within a month, Mr Chayotid said.

Plans include improving regulations on immigration, visa applications and work permits for foreign experts, including relaxing the requirement for foreign workers to report their whereabouts to authorities every 90 days. The framework also will include inducements for foreign investors such as corporate income-tax cuts, relaxed property-holding rules and incentives for retirees and startup companies.

Mr Chayotid, an adviser to Deputy Prime Minister Supattanapong Punmeechaow, said he aims to attract one million retirees or pensioners to Thailand in the next few years, who he claimed could contribute as much as 1.2 trillion baht (S$51.1 billion) to the Thai economy each year.

Thailand has seen foreign direct investment tumble more than 50 per cent in the past five years to about 361 billion baht in 2020 as investors were deterred by factors including periodic political uncertainties, low growth prospects due to an ageing society and a labour shortage.

Foreign tourist arrivals into Thailand plunged to 6.7 million last year, the lowest level in at least 12 years, after the country closed its borders to contain the pandemic.

Areas that need immediate improvement include visas and regulations that prevent Thailand from gaining more value from foreigners and foreign workers, BOT governor Sethaput Suthiwartnarueput said in a March speech that was posted recently on the central bank's website.

On Monday, Thailand reported 985 new Covid-19 cases, a record daily jump for a second day in a row, as the country deals with a third wave of infections and a highly contagious variant.

Since the latest outbreak began at the start of April, 4,641 new domestic cases have been added in less than two weeks, bringing the total since last year to 33,610 cases and 97 deaths. The spike comes ahead of the major national Songkran holidays, known for big street water fights that authorities have now banned for a second year due to the coronavirus pandemic.

All but five new cases on Monday were local transmissions, including 137 in the capital Bangkok, the epicentre of an outbreak that has spread to most of Thailand's 77 provinces.

Authorities have urged people to avoid unnecessary travel and reduce gatherings to help limit the outbreak, which includes the highly transmissible B.1.1.7 variant first identified in Britain.

"Although infections are spreading fast and found in many provinces across the country, they are mostly imported there," said Opas Karnkawinpong, the director-general of the Department of Disease Control.

Nightspots such as pubs and karaoke bars in Bangkok and 40 provinces will be closed until April 23.

The measure should slow down infection rates by nearly a third in the next month, a senior health official said on Sunday, warning that under a worst-case scenario, infections could hypothetically reach more than 28,000 per day. BLOOMBERG, REUTERS

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