Here is the background.
For the 32nd year of my ‘non-immigrant’ presence in Thailand, I applied last February for the renewal of my yearly non-immigrant visa (and work permit). This was granted on 25 March, valid until 5 March 2011.
On that occasion, I was told that, never mind the one-year visa, I should come and ‘report’ at Immigration every ninety days. For the first time, my passport was stamped with a notice that read in part: ‘notification of residence must be made every 90 days.’ (See 25 March posting ‘Tightening the screws’.) That was all. Just in case, I picked up a few official forms for that purpose.
Although I very much resent such a nonsensical rule, as a law-abiding non-national, I undertook to comply with it. So, yesterday I arranged for a company messenger to take the completed form and my passport to Immigration this morning: the notice doesn’t say ‘in person’ and any monkey can figure out that 25 March plus 90 days makes 22 June, today.
At Immigration this morning, the messenger called the office which called me to say that I would be fined 2000 baht as the 90 days had to be counted from my last entry into Thailand (21 October 2009)! Using the messenger’s cell phone, I talked to the relevant officer and couldn’t make any sense of this. In any case, she hung up on me.
Around midday the messenger came back, handed over the form and passport and I went to Immigration myself, missing lunch. (I had lunch at home around 3:30, 485 baht poorer in taxi fares, not counting the 200 baht I had given the messenger.)
Once there, I was given the runaround, first with the 90-day A-section people, then with the Business section officials that had issued the visa extension in the first place (dear Khun Aphichai and his woman boss) and then back again with him at A section and then with the woman boss of the latter.
The official version is that this 90-day regulation has been in existence since, would you believe it, 1980 but apparently hasn’t been enforced properly until recently. It works like this: you start counting as of your first entry, not from any crummy visa renewal date. On that first entry, you are issued a ‘Notice’ that stipulates (in English) that you must come back to ‘notify residence’ (!) on such a date three months on.
This inane arrangement, for all of thirty-two years I was never told about. Until 25 March 2010, I was not aware of such a regulation; there was never any mention of it in my passport or anywhere else. On that day, I was issued no notice by Khun Aphichai either. Nor was I fined 2000 baht. My first entry in the country was on 12 May 1978, for fright’s sake!
No amount of arguing or pleading would convince those worthy bureaucrats to, given my obvious good faith, stamp a frigging notice and consider 25 March as my ‘first entry’ in the country.
Things turned really weird when first Khun Aphichai privately and then the A-section boss herself, whose name I was too agitated to take down, to my face and in so many words suggested the following way-out: just ignore the regulation.
Yes, you read that well.
I made objections: when I picked up the visa extension, I also applied for and received a one-time re-entry visa during the next eleven months (cost: 1000 baht), primarily in case my father, who is 93 and ailing, dies and I must fly overnight to France to bury him. If this happens, won’t I be fined or stopped at the airport? Answer: ‘Officials at the airport aren’t much concerned about the 90-day rule: passengers have to catch their flights. When you are back, go by the 90-day rule.’ In other words: just chance it.
On the other hand, if my father keeps himself alive and I stay until visa renewal time next March, what happens? Answer: ‘Well, we’ll consider that as your first entry and issue you with the notice.’ This was utter nonsense and the immediate objection would have been: if you can do this next year, then Khun Aphichai was at fault for not issuing me with the notice in March this year. Why not let him correct his own mistake now?
But at that point I gave up and withdrew. I know that not knowing the law is no excuse, but I refuse to be penalised for a rule that may have been in the books for donkey’s years but is only being applied retroactively in aberrant earnestness this year.
So, at the very suggestion of two Immigration officials, I’ll flaunt the regulation, come what may. If I get arrested for it, so be it. There are thousands upon thousands of non-resident foreigners like me suffering from the same bureaucratic nonsense that wastes everybody’s time, money and goodwill at a time when this country needs more than ever to make things easy for honest, dedicated and useful ‘non-immigrants’ like us. If someone at the French embassy happens to read this, perhaps some sort of discreet representation could be made with top-level officials at Immigration, behind whom all automatons at their desks retrench themselves, arguing unfailingly that they are powerless phoo noi (little people).