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Posts Tagged ‘Immigration’

The Kasikorn Bank Russian roulette

In English on 26/05/2017 at 2:26 pm

My yearly retirement visa was due to expire today Fri 26 May – it’s been extended another year, thank you. But it was touch and go, and not because of Immigration, who provided speedy streamlined service as never before in my almost four-decade-long experience.

Immigration insists, in this particular option, on being provided with a letter from a Thai bank certifying that at least 800,000 baht (about 21,000 euros) has been held in the applicant’s account for the past three months.

Ahead of time, I had obtained from Pattaya Immigration a model of that letter. On Tue evening, armed with that model, bank book and passport, I went to the nearest Kasikorn Bank branch along with my daughter who had just driven up from Bangkok. She had taken leave for a day and a half (and was imperatively due back at her office by Thu afternoon) to help her helpless father through this and a couple other administrative hurdles.

How lucky for me that she did!

When we stated our case at the bank branch, we were told that such a letter could not be delivered, because my account was elsewhere – specifically, in Bang Lamphoo, Bangkok, where it’s been for the past twenty-six years. It was a new regulation from the National Bank… So, we had to go back to Bang Lamphoo next day.

As previous experience showed that such a letter might well take days to be issued, my daughter insisted that the bank contact right away the Bang Lamphoo branch to arrange for the letter “to be ready for pickup first thing tomorrow morning”. This was kindly done.

Back on the pavement, we were flabbergasted at the prospect of a 340 km return trip to Bang Lamphoo to get a bloody piece of paper.

But then my daughter said, “I’ve got doubts about this regulation about not certifying money in another branch account, because at first she said it was from the National Bank but then her boss said it was from the bank’s central office. So let’s try another Kasikorn office, you never know.”

Again, we explained what we were after. Five minutes later, we had in hand the letter signed and sealed, and even written more formally than the model provided by Immigration!

Driving me barmy – 2

In English, Reading matters on 25/05/2012 at 5:28 pm

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On Thursday morning, armed with a double batch of documents – the ministry-related ones and the company-related ones, which I must present ahead of time even though the batch is not complete – I go to Immigration the Labour Department, 9 km away. A short queue and one of the officers examines the ministry-related documents. Where is the such-and-such form to be filled by the ministry? Drat! That isn’t in the batch prepared by Personnel, perhaps not even in her list. So I go back to the ministry.

The document is completed over lunch, as it were. Then I go back to the Labour Department. A long queue this time (thirty-one persons ahead of me, a full hour’s wait). By 3 o’clock, it’s my turn, and soon two officers are involved and the section head as well. This more than middle-aged woman is more than understanding and helpful: she calls the head of Personnel, the conversation lasts and lasts, and if I try to sort out the various developments, it goes something like this:

– there is no new work permit book for my new position: it will be mentioned on my current nine-year-old book as ‘adviser to the Ministry of Culture’;

– come back next Tuesday for it; this mention should be enough for Immigration to issue you a one-year visa;

– since you will have two ‘employers’ you must pay twice the fee (so, twice 3 000 baht or 75 euros for one year; Immigration is less greedy: 2 000 baht or 50 euros, and 1 000 baht or 25 euros for one re-entry permit, if I happen to need to leave the country during the year);

– per regulation, you cannot resign from the company currently employing you for another thirty days;

– regarding the company’s documents, you must absolutely bring next Tuesday three missing documents, this, this and that, otherwise…

Otherwise is still unclear in my mind. When, back home as late as 5:30pm, I talk over the phone with the head of Personnel, she tells me that she’s been told by the section head at Labour that, if the documents required are not presented on time, the work permit cannot be extended beyond May 30! She further informs me that the audited financial statement of the company for FY2010 will be signed Friday (today) but further steps are required (such as payment of back taxes and acknowledgment thereof) which might or might not be completed by Tuesday.

All parties at Immigration, Labour, the ministry and my company have shown great willingness to help but Immigration and Labour regulations limit manoeuvrability. Yet, it’s clear something’s got to give. At this point, I can only hope for either some further goodwill on the part of Labour to extend my work permit on the strength of sponsoring by the Ministry of Culture or some further goodwill on the part of Immigration for the same reason (even if this happens on the last day of current visa cum work permit).

Or else?

A wonderful long weekend ahead, thank you.

The silver lining is that, during the multiple waiting sessions at Immigration, Labour and the ministry, I’ve finished reading two more stories by Win Lyovarin from his latest collection, Sen Sommut (Imaginary lines), and that, to calm my nerves in the evening I’ve given another reading and fine-brushing to that buffalo novel that kept me busy for some two hundred hours during the past month: I’m merely waiting for the author’s clarification of three minor points to send the final text back.

Driving me barmy – 1

In English on 25/05/2012 at 5:26 pm

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On May 12, I clocked 34 years of presence as a ‘non-immigrant’ in Thailand.

Next month I’ll be 67.

Five days from now I may yet be expelled.

Those who read this blog know how at the end of March I had to leave to Laos in a hurry to return with a three-month business visa because a couple of essential documents over Fiscal Year 2010 could not be produced on time by the company that employs me for me to be granted the usual one-year visa/work permit extension. Those who read this blog also know that those documents are still not ready.

But the situation has become more complex.

Thanks to kindly persons appalled that this well-known translator of Thai literature (I mean me) was compelled in old age to three-month visa runs, one section of the Ministry of Culture offered to sponsor my visa. A letter of support as an English language adviser was issued in mid-month. After much soul-searching and consultations with relevant persons, including a friend’s immigration lawyer (his answer: ‘Go to Laos again’) and finally with my employer, it was decided that: 1) I would use the ministry’s letter of support to obtain renewal of the visa; 2) I would resign from the company (to no longer be at the mercy of missing documents); and 3) I would be rehired as an outside adviser in one or other company of the group.

So far so good … in cuckoo land.

Last Monday, I went to the ministry to take the original letter of support. Fortunately the ministry is a short taxi ride away from my place, if on the wrong side of the road.

The fun starts on Tuesday morning when I present it at Immigration (at the Government Complex, some 25 km away from here): 1) the letter isn’t pro forma; 2) bring back the correct letter of support and bring along your work permit. You have one, don’t you? Yes, at the company, I answer mystified. I go back to the ministry; the pro forma letter of support will be ready the next morning.

Wednesday morning: I pick up the precious document, stop by the office to pick up the work permit, go to Immigration. Different officers, same snafu: this is your company’s work permit – where is the ministry’s work permit? What! A work permit for a position as an adviser? Yes, all foreigners must have a work permit attached to their employer. But this isn’t a real employment, the work is piecemeal, the income too. I point out that when, fourteen years ago, in dire straits then, visa short and out of work, I received a one-year extension of the visa on the strength of a single letter of support from an office of the Prime Minister’s Office as their linguistic adviser (paid 200 or 300 baht per monthly meeting) there was no question of a work permit attached to it. Well, now there is. The thing to do is to get the ministry to write a letter of support to Immigration, which will issue you with the relevant work permit, then you come back to us and we’ll issue you with the visa for sure. Don’t worry, you still have time.

This conversation has mobilised the head of the section, who helpfully tries to think of alternative solutions. There are two, both unworkable: 1) as an old man, I can be given a retirement visa. Do you have 800 000 baht in a bank account? I do, but, according to your regulations, khrap, that money has to come from abroad. What I have are savings from working in a Thai company; 2) as the father of a daughter, you can be sponsored by her. There are two requirements, khrap: she must have been employed for two years – she has – and she must earn at least 30 000 baht a month – she doesn’t yet. So back to the ministry solution.

And for me back to the ministry. Then to the office, where the head of Personnel finds out that, in such a configuration, another set of documents is required by the Labour Department on top of the letter of support of the ministry. She manages to gather them for me in no time! I go back home, the ministry calls: the letter of support to the Labour Department is ready. It’s 4:15pm. Can I come and collect it now? Yes, if you can make it before 5pm. I’ll leave it at the desk downstairs. Taxi to the ministry. It’s drizzling and the traffic is intense. Instead of the usual safe detour through the suspended bridge to cross the avenue and the three-hundred-yard walk to the ministry, I have the taxi stop in front of the ministry and cross the avenue on foot – a rather thrilling exercise I survive. It 4:50pm. I get the document and go back home.

81 days left on the wild ass’s skin

In English on 09/03/2012 at 8:28 pm

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Compared to previous years, extending the work permit at the Labour Department is now a walk in the park: all three times I’ve been there over the past two weeks there was virtually no queue and, even though I was sent packing twice, matters were dealt with within minutes, with courtesy and even friendliness. This is worth recording here.

The only downside is that it takes days to collect the required documentation which, to tell the truth, is chicken feed compared to that demanded of us farang intruders by Immigration, a now fully computerised hydra in its mammoth Government Service Centre that keeps insisting on the same fat stack of documents as in its cramped Suan Phlu years, 80 per cent of which, with or without variations, are the same as the year(s) before anyway and over 90 per cent of which have nothing whatsoever to do with me but with the Thai company that employs me (so much so that every time I have the nasty feeling of being used by the cops to keep tabs on my employer).

This morning, the man who dealt with me at Labour was particularly friendly and empathetic and almost sorry to grant me the modest three-month extension of work permit I requested when a full year extension was in order, but he found my arguments sound enough. Pointing out that I should make a copy of my health certificate to present again three months from now, he got up and went to xerox it himself and gave me back the original!

So I’m now legit and relieved again, visa and work permit wise, until the end of May. Another 81 days before a new round of paper chasing.

Meanwhile, there’ll be one more hurdle, I’m afraid: renewing my French/EU passport, which expires early next year, as Immigration, come end of May, would only grant me an extension of the (yearly ‘non-imm’1) visa to the expiry date of my passport. What a swell world we live in!

1) ‘Non-imm’, short for ‘non-immigrant’ in nonsensical Thai bureaucratese, actually makes perfect sense to me: in Thai im means ‘satiated’ and non-im I truly feel whenever I leave the Thai Immigration smorgasbord.

Festival Cabrel – 4

In English, French, Reading matters on 21/01/2011 at 7:52 pm

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African Tour – Francis Cabrel – 2008

Déjà nos villages s’éloignent
Quelques fantômes m’accompagnent
Y’aura des déserts, des montagnes
A traverser jusqu’à l’Espagne
Et après… Inch’allah

Already our villages recede
A few phantoms are travelling with me
There’ll be deserts, mountains
To go through until Spain
And then … Inch’Allah

On a de mauvaises chaussures
L’argent cousu dans nos doublures
Les passeurs doivent nous attendre
Le peu qu’on a ils vont le prendre
Et après…

Bad shoes on our feet
Money sewn in our linings
The smugglers must be waiting for us
The little we have they’ll take
And then

Est-ce que l’Europe est bien gardée ?
Je n’en sais rien
Est-ce que les douaniers sont armés ?
On verra bien
Si on me dit, c’est chacun chez soi
Moi je veux bien, sauf que chez moi
Sauf que chez moi y’a rien

Is Europe well defended?
I’ve no idea
Are customs officers armed?
We shall see
If I’m told To each his own home
I don’t mind, except in mine
Except in mine there’s nothing

Pas de salon, pas de cuisine
Les enfants mâchent des racines
Tout juste un carré de poussière
Un matelas jeté par terre
Au dessus… Inch’allah

No living room, no kitchen
Our children eat roots
Just a square of dust
A mattress spread on the ground
And above … Inch’Allah

Vous vous imaginez peut-être
Que j’ai fait tous ces kilomètres
Tout cet espoir, tout ce courage
Pour m’arrêter contre un grillage

Maybe you’re thinking
I’ve done all this mileage
All this hope, all this courage
To be stopped by wire netting

Est-ce que l’Europe est bien gardée ?
Je n’en sais rien
Est-ce que les douaniers vont tirer ?
On verra bien
Si on me dit, c’est chacun chez soi
Moi je veux bien, sauf que chez moi
Sauf que chez moi y’a rien

Is Europe well defended?
I’ve no idea
Will customs officers shoot?
We shall see
If I’m told, To each his own house
I don’t mind, except in mine
Except in mine there’s nothing

Je n’en sais rien
On verra bien
Moi, je veux bien
Sauf que chez moi…

I’ve no idea
We shall see
Well why not
Except in mine

La moitié d’un échafaudage
J’en demande pas davantage
Un rien, une parole, un geste
Donnez-moi tout ce qu’il vous reste
Et après…
Je n’en sais rien

One half of scaffolding
I’m not asking for more
A nothing, a word, a gesture
Give me your leftovers
And then
I’ve no idea

On verra bien
Moi, je veux bien
Sauf que chez moi…
Déjà nos villages s’éloignent

We shall see
I don’t mind
Except that in mine
Already our villages recede

youtube.com/watch?v=19Cwsn-2bnQ

Twits (2)

In English on 22/06/2010 at 9:44 pm

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.
Nothing doing.
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).

Tightening the screws

In English on 25/03/2010 at 5:16 pm

 

Today was another painful bureaucratic day to get that eleven-month extension of the yearly visa and a re-entry visa while I was at it. The pain was less bureaucratic than real: for the past four or five days, I’ve been plagued by dull to acute pain over one quarter of my face on the left side: jaw, gums, throat, even ear, and clenching my teeth makes me jump with searing pain – to the point that I can no longer eat solid food.
At first, I waited: either the pain would go away (it got worse) or something would swell and be noticeable (nothing did). Finally, yesterday I went to Thonburi Hospital and spent an hour or so to get an appointment only to be told that the specialist wouldn’t be there until Friday (tomorrow) evening. I was told to take Paracetamol®…
My one-month visa was due to expire on Friday. Awoken by pain at 2am and then again at 4am this morning, I wondered whether I should go to Immigration or to some other, specialised hospital first. The pain told me to go to the hospital right away, but I decided on Immigration. I reasoned that since going to Immigration involves a 30-km trip across town, I’d better go today rather than tomorrow because today the red shirts are busy around Parliament but there’s no telling where they might go tomorrow; usually, one could go and retrieve the visa one to three days ahead of time so there would be no problem; and furthermore, because I didn’t know what exactly ailed me, I was afraid to have to go from one doctor to another at the hospital with perhaps no time to proceed to the blasted Government Complex. I was wrong on at least two counts.

When I went to fang phon (listen to the result), I was told, Sorry, come back tomorrow; your visa expires on the 26th, today is the 25th. It’s a new regulation.

After some pleading, I was told to contact my processing officer at the Business desk, dear Nai Aphichai, who contacted a clerk who said Your name is not in the register yet, and then the phoo kong (head of section, a woman) came over, and because they could see I was in some physical discomfort, sympathised with the fact that a double trip through town is no fun (they themselves have to cover miles and miles to go to work and back each day now that they have been summarily relocated across town and are not being provided with sleeping facilities in the neighbourhood) or for whatever other reason (my good Thai, good looks, demure attire and unthreatening behaviour, seniority…), an exception – a special effort – was made, my file retrieved from somewhere ahead of time, the passport stamped, the required signatures from desk to desk provided, and I could then go and apply for a re-entry permit. The whole thing took three and a half hours (not counting the taxi rides, one and a half hour in the morning, one hour in early afternoon).

Nice, efficient, humane service – but then there is the flip side of inane regulations.

With the visa stamp comes a double ‘Notice’: ‘To keep your stay permit re-entry permit must be made before leaving Thailand’ (nothing new here) and ‘Notification of residence must be made every 90 days’.

The meaning of this second obligation escapes me: when one is given a yearly visa, why report every three months? ‘Because some people are untraceable.’ Nonsense. When someone steals something, you tell the whole neighbourhood to report to the cops, do you?

I found out that there is a form for such a chore, and got a few – why not send it by mail, with the stamp of the local police station to make it legit, if you insist?
This is the same kind of lack of common sense that demands to be shown original company documents rather that certified photocopies ‘because some companies doctor photocopies’ – when collective documents should not be used for personal purposes. Police thinking: some cheat, so others might, so let’s tighten the screws and treat all foreigners as potential criminals – or is it terrorists? Then why bother to issue one-year visas at all? Why not three-month visas for ever, while you are at it? To make sure that a maximum of foreigners stop coming to help or invest or relocate to any other country of the region offering five- or ten-year visas.

Even the rank-and-file at Immigration (and the taxi driver who took me there this morning) acknowledge that this is stupid, insulting and counterproductive. One even said, Why don’t you take it up with our phoo yai (bosses)?

I’m sure some of us will, somehow. And, by the way, 90 days from now, I’ll probably be in France for a holiday – then what?
At the Eye Ear Nose Throat Hospital, I took time to swallow some khao tom (boiled rice with minced pork) and within minutes was in the presence of Dr Wirote, with whom I’ve had a decade-long relationship: he treats my recurring ear trouble with great skill. A five-minute session of questions and answers, palpation and oral speleology discovered that it had nothing to do with the mandible joint, the ear, the gums or the teeth, but with tonsillitis. I left the place with enough pain-killer and antibiotic pills to floor a horse, took a pill right away, and this is how I’m able to write this and get on with my work next with equanimity.

3pm: I’m hardly back home when the phone rings. It’s Thonburi Hospital. About your Friday evening appointment, could it be pushed back to next Tuesday? The doctor can’t make it.

Labour labours

In English on 04/03/2010 at 10:06 pm

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Last Friday, the ground floor of the Labour ministry was teeming; by Tuesday, it was nearly deserted: on Saturday, the long-protesting laid-out Triumph workers had agreed to vacate the premises, provided by the ministry, or so I read in the papers, with sewing machines and what not to produce more of their own brand of bras. More power to breast-boosting workers, I say!

No more temperature shooting of visitors at the bottom of the main staircase either.

Upstairs, in the Outer Space Citizens’ Processing Zone, there was less of a crowd as well. The one-hour Friday queue was down to twenty minutes or so on Tuesday, leaving me with time to pee, have a fruit juice and a smoke and watch the numbers click by rather than the preposterous TV fare or the ‘Please do not wear short or sandals’ sign. (The Thai version of it is more pompous: ‘When visiting officialdom, dress appropriately.’)

I hopped from desk to desk to desk to cashier’s booth and paid two hundred baht for paper processing, twice the usual fare, and was told to come back on March 9 to fork out 7 000 baht and get that two-year extension of my labour permit (3 000 per year plus 1 000 for the company having changed address – I bull-excrement you not). Add to this a 230 baht taxi fare, forth and back from the office.

About changing addresses: when on Friday the processing officer noticed that, on my 2010 documents, my home address had a different street number in Soi Wat Daowadueng from previous years, when I insisted it was the same house the Bangkok Metropolitan Authority had seen fit to renumber ages ago (before they sensibly changed the street address altogether only three months ago so that by now I don’t live in 147/33 Soi Wat Dao, but in 281 Soi 2, Somdej Phra Pin Klao Road – tell this to any taxi driver and see where it gets you), the well-meaning processing officer had me reinstate the obsolete number to avoid filling in another form and paying whatever penalty for it. Isn’t it wonderful how bureaucracy works to blind itself? No wonder I’ll never be anything but a dime-a-dozen ‘English language specialist’ in their eyes.

Anyway, by 11am I was across the road tucking into a pale imitation of khao phat moo (fried rice with pork), having had a pre-dawn breakfast as I had forgotten to sleep altogether that night.

The set of tables was below one of several East Berlin-type buildings of dirt-cheap leased flats, as the food shop matron there obligingly told me (details of rates included). There were no customers but me and, in the table facing me, one of my earlier processing officers, the small stocky one with frizzy hair, bushy eyebrows and a bit of a moustache. She studiously avoided my gaze all the time she ate her mauve-sauced noodles. I noticed that she was sweating as profusely as I was; but then, she had the excuse of chillies. She left without paying. I guess she must be a regular, with a running monthly account.

Now, let’s see:

9 March to Labour again;

26 March, or a day or two before, to Government Center to fang phon (‘listen to the result’ – meaning, an eleven-month extension of the ‘non-immigrant visa’* if the powers that be are so inclined – Saaaaathu!). No more fees to pay, just the taxi fares (about 500 baht). Perhaps I’ll take the opportunity to ask for a 1 000 baht re-entry visa, just in case I feel like exhibiting my family jewels in some airport at any time during those months. And, oh yes, showing my face there every ninety days. Or perhaps not.

* ‘Non-immigrant visa’: the expression has always amused me. ‘Non-immigrant’ is what Thais are, I would’ve thought. But then, who are the ‘immigrants’, where are they processed and what happens to them?

As I repaired to the office, I was reflecting on how much of a cash cow we, all tens, perhaps hundreds, of thousands of ‘non-immigrants’, are for officialdom in this visa cum labour permit racket, and how the whole rigmarole works out to the enrichment of impoverished taxi drivers, who should be grateful to the system, whether or not they worship their has-been saviour who found himself out of pocket just the other day.

But then, the sobering thought was: how are my brother-Thais being treated when they, like me, renew their visa and labour permit applications in the other land of their choice?

A day in history

In English on 27/02/2010 at 11:39 pm

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I understand someone lost a lot of money yesterday. In the drudge of that six-hour-long reading, the highlight was obviously that eminent jurist who kept stumbling over figures; perhaps he needs new glasses. I must say that those figures were staggering, down to the last ‘point twenty-five satang’, and at least three zeros beyond what I may hope to earn in my entire life. All things considered, though, it makes me quite proud to be that rare bird that refuses to encumber his life with a portable phone (and thus has to bear with TOT occasionally depriving me of internet, as happened Thursday night and for much of Friday, but that’s another story).

Anyway, I had other more pressing concerns: yesterday was Renewal of Visa and Labour Permit Day for yours truly, coinciding with the 23d birthday of my daughter, Oramart Aurore, aka Tam, who has started on her way to the Supreme Court herself. We celebrated with a Korean dinner in farang land (Bang Lamphoo) and were back in the nick of time to hear the verdict. Poor little rich man.

Up at six, out at seven, there at some time past eight. Government Center, where Immigration has now migrated, is as big as or bigger than the new airport, and as much out of the way for the working man. Fourteen had formed a queue before me, but by 8:30 I found myself M5-1 in front of the M5 booth, which was manned by none other than my last-year processing officer, helpful Nai Aphichai. I thumped on his desk the neat stack of documents a whole team of our people had gathered over the previous month or so to satisfy the whims of Immigration. (Out of vanity, I added to the lot a photocopy of that splash in the Bangkok Post of 22 February that proclaims me, shaved or unshaved, the main key to Thai literature’s radiation abroad (http://www.bangkokpost.com/leisure/book/169298/man-of-letters).)

Out of the seventeen ‘headers’ involving about a hundred pages altogether, only three (five A4 sheets in all) are related to me; the others concern the company I work for, Thai Day Dot Com Co Ltd, that obscure hole-in-the-wall which, on the 15th floor of a Silom skyscraper, employs 407 people including lone farang me, whose office remains at Phra Arthit anyway, never mind that. Ownership, shareholders, financial statements, you name it, they want it: most were updates of previous years’ statements, gathered from relevant ministries in town where the information is already official and secure, one should think.

The cops don’t want to know whether I am sound of mind and body, have a criminal record or mix with my co-workers. They want a map of my office location and pictures of the staff, but don’t ask me to feature in them. In effect, they use me as a spy to check on my employer.

The innovation this year was presentation of a set of original documents belonging to the company for perusal. Is it legal, is it fair, to demand that collective documents be handled for personal use? What if I lost them in a taxi or it rained on ’em or the dog had a go at ’em? What’s wrong with certified copies by the ministries concerned?

When will all this last-century paperwork be scrapped in favour of electronic databases? I can’t remember seeing a single computer in those swanky, spacey premises where you have to go down one floor and walk hundreds of metres to make a photocopy.

As demanded, proof of payment of VAT by the company went back three months, October to December 2009. Ah, but it should have been November 2009 to January 2010, see. So, I was given a one-month extension (standard procedure) on the condition that the January VAT payment photocopied slip be faxed forthwith.

‘Oh, by the way, there’s a new regulation: you have to come here and report every ninety days. Don’t say I didn’t tell you about it,’ said Nai Aphichai as a parting shot with what looked like an uneasy smile. After thirty-two years of presence in the kingdom, being required to show my face across town every three months to make sure I am still around? How considerate!

At the Ministry of Labour, whose ground floor was as usual the playing and working and sleeping ground of sundry long-time demonstrators and where young women shot at you to take your face temperature before you went up the stairs, again the vagaries of number listing sent me face to face with a long-time acquaintance I greeted with ‘Happy New Year to you’. I called myself ‘Phom’ and called her ‘Khun’; she called herself ‘Noo’, out of deference for my age. The stack of documents was a third as thick as at Immigration, and was in order, except that, hey, your company’s address has changed! Well, in this case, I can’t process you; take that form at the counter and come back with a complementary set of documents (only twenty pages or so, including a copy of your employer’s ID card) before March 5, since your labour permit expires on that day.

‘Oh, by the way, since your company is making so much profit, you’re entitled to not a one- but a two-year extension of your labour permit,’ she said as a parting shot with a kindly smile. Quite obviously, a different philosophy reigns here, called common sense, where I feel I’m being treated as a human being rather than a petty criminal on a leash that needs to be monitored not just once a year but every trimester.

I rushed back to the office, which I reached by 12:30, to report and return those precious originals. Next round next week. Had lunch. Made it back home by 3pm in time to turn on the telly for the other melodrama of the day.

Total mileage: 60.5 kilometres; total taxi fare: 575 baht; half a day’s work lost; tired zygomatics.

All told, compared to previous years, and especially last year, which bordered on hell for a whole week, quite an easy ordeal (thanks to Personnel and other staff at the office), even if it isn’t over yet. Besides, it was the occasion of renewing acquaintance with Nai Apichai, and the lady at Labour I’ll be seeing again next week, and of lengthy conversations with taxi drivers during which, with my political if legal-untrained mind, I predicted exactly (ask that young fellow) what the verdict would be and how it would be dubiously viewed by the many as fair, would lower political heat temporarily and solve nothing.

PS: Of that Franco-Thai wedding dinner Chart and I attended and fled from before dinner on Thursday evening, all I need to say is that the water served there was delicious, if a bit costly. In retrospect, Nick and Mem’s wedding the other month was a genuine display of human warmth.