Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin has informed the Cabinet of his ambition to strengthen the Thai passport. His goal is to expand the list of countries that allow Thai citizens to enter without needing a prior visa or a visa on arrival.
Currently, only 34 countries do not necessitate a prior visa or visa on arrival for Thai passport holders.
Thailand has recently expanded its visa regulations, now offering visa-free access to citizens of several countries, including China, Russia, and India.
The mutual agreement with China, granting perpetual tourist visa exemptions, is a particular source of satisfaction for Mr. Srettha.
Phumiphiphat Meesamran, Vice-president of the Thai Travel Agents Association, has expressed his urging for the Thai government to negotiate visa exemptions with European countries, the UK, the USA, and Australia.
As it stands, these nations do not provide visa-free entry to Thai citizens, although their citizens can enter Thailand visa-free for 30 days with an option for a straightforward extension.
One major hurdle in securing visa-free entry to Western countries is their concern about Thai nationals potentially overstaying or settling illegally.
To be granted a visa, Thai citizens must demonstrate strong ties to their homeland to countries like the UK, Australia, the USA, and mainland European nations. These ties could include property ownership, significant employment, or other financial assets.
However, the Cabinet’s policy does not have unanimous support. Sumate Sudasna, president of the Thailand and Convention Association, has noted that visa-free access is usually only for tourists, and business travelers would still need to apply for special visas.
He also cautioned that eliminating visa requirements entirely could lead to potential security issues.
Instances have emerged that highlight these security concerns. For example, some Thais, who pose as tourists in South Korea, engage in unauthorized work, a situation referred to as ‘phi noi’ or ‘little ghosts,’ signifying their illegal worker status.
In a similar situation, several Chinese nationals have been arrested in Thailand for illegal work.
The Thai Chamber of Commerce has observed, “If the government and private sector jointly push forward in building relationships with other countries, the Thai passport could see an improvement in its global ranking.”
Among Asian countries, Singapore is at the forefront of visa-free travel, with its citizens able to visit 164 countries without needing a visa.