It has been a little over two years since Thailand changed their policy on tourist visas. Depending on where you stand, some will say it is a positive change, while others have the opposite opinion.
In October 2006 Thailand implemented a new rule about how long people could stay in Thailand on a tourist visa on arrival. People were only allowed to stay 90 days every 180 days. Tourist visas that were obtained at Thai consulates and embassies were not effected.
When this policy was enacted, non-Thais who were living in Thailand for extended periods of time were shocked at the prospect of having to leave their new home. Some chose to figure out a way around this new hoop the Thais had put up, while others simply threw in the towel and joined the exodus from Thailand.
Apparently the attempt was designed to weed out undesirable people who were living in Thailand. Many tied the change in policy to a person who was mentally ill and confessed to a high profile murder in the US. The fact of the matter was he did not kill the girl, but it did leave a mark on the face of Thailand as to who was potentially living in the country.
The down side of the new tourist visa policy was many of the people who joined the exodus were part of the regular economy and not the tourist economy. They had apartments and small Thai businesses opened up to support the high spending non-Thais. Laundry services, western style restaurants and so on were all about to take a hit or go out of business. People in the tourist economy would spend money in hotels and restaurants in the tourist areas along with excessive shopping by the female tourists.
The results were wide ranging from apartment buildings going from 95% occupancy to about 60% in early 2007 at the end of the first 90 day period. Considering that the apartments ranged in price from about 5000 Baht to 70,000 Baht per month, the change in the economy was significant. Most Thais spend little more than 3000 Baht per month on rent. A quick translation is one non-Thai can easily spend 20 times as much as a Thai just on rent. That does not count the other supporting services.
As time went on the Thai government kept changing the rules making it more difficult to stay in Thailand. The most recent change was now reducing the 30 day tourist visa on arrival to just 15 days. This change would certainly hurt Thailand when they need tourist the most. This will effect certain groups of tourist more than others. Backpackers will be annoyed as they often spend a month in various spots around Thailand.
Also changes to the rules at nearby consulates like Penang Malaysia make it a bit of Russian roulette on getting visas. That does not only apply to tourist visas. Non-immigrant visas are also being affected and finding a consulate that will provide the needed visa to continue to run a business in Thailand is now difficult.
This is one path Thailand needs to stop walking down, and stop quickly. Chasing away people who contribute to the economy is equal to self amputation, and especially now with the economy in tatters, every person with money to spend in Thailand counts.
There are some rumors that much of this is part of Thaksin’s doing. It was well known that Thaksin was only interested in the money from the west and not the people who had it. With the new government in place there may be some changes made, but only time will tell.