Travel agents and tourism experts in Vietnam have expressed discontent about Thailand’s new effort to restrict the flow of illegal migrants into the country.
According to a bilateral agreement between the Vietnamese and Thai governments, Vietnamese passport holders can stay in Thailand for 30 days without visas if they enter by air and 15 days if they enter by land.
But new regulations issued by the Thai Immigration Bureau, on August 12, began requiring Vietnamese who frequently enter Thailand to prove they're visiting for travel purposes or apply for visas.
Under the new regulations, Thai authorities recommended that foreign tourists be prepared to present return air tickets and hotel booking confirmations to Thai customs officers.
Thailand issued the new regulations to crack down on Vietnamese who use ''visa runs'' to leave and re-enter Thailand in a single day in order to extend their stays or even work, according to the Bangkok Post.
Last year 2,812 Vietnamese people were arrested in Thailand, including some 803 undocumented workers, according to Thai statistics.
An estimated 500,000 Vietnamese traveled to Thailand every year.
Nguyen Van My, director of Ho Chi Minh City-based Lua Viet Tours Co., Ltd., said he was surprised by the new rules.
“Using visa rules to stop illegal foreign workers, including Vietnamese, from entering Thailand is just a bad idea. Although Thailand promised the rules wouldn't affect tourists, I think they'll prove insulting to Vietnamese travelers," My said. "I expect the number of Vietnamese tourists heading to Thailand may sharply decrease in the near future.”
According to My, Thailand could instead seek to control the flow of illegal workers by refusing to let “suspicious” visitors enter the country, rather than unilaterally breaking a bilateral agreement.
Vietnam has extended visa exemptions to Thai nationals for years.
Within the ASEAN bloc, Vietnam and Cambodia are now the only two countries that do not enjoy visa exemptions to Thailand.
“That is discriminatory and violates a visa exemption pact signed by every ASEAN nation,” My said.
He called on the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Vietnam Tourism Association to raise their voice in the matter.
Thailand’s new [visa] rules may hurt Vietnamese tourists and badly affect the fine relationship that has developed between the two countries” -- Nguyen Van Tuan, chief of the Vietnam National Administration of Tourism
Tran Vinh Loc, director of Lac Hong Voyages Co., Ltd., said the new rules are troublesome because they essentially invite Thai immigration officers to create problems for Vietnamese tourists who aren't traveling in groups or through travel companies.
He assumed that Thailand issued the new rule as a technical barrier to reduce the number of illegal Vietnamese workers, though the ASEAN Economic Community will allow citizens of the bloc to freely work in member nations starting next year.
“For its part, Vietnam could erect the same technical barrier for Thai workers,” he said.
He called Thailand’s new rules “inappropriate,” noting that Malaysia and Singapore have chosen to stop suspicious-looking Vietnamese migrants at border gates rather than issuing troublesome blanket visa rules.
Pham Truong Luong, deputy chief of the Institute for Tourism Development Research, said Thailand’s new visa rules may be just temporary, as Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Thailand and Myanmar continue mulling a single-visa policy that would enable tourists to travel freely between the five nations.
Nguyen Van Tuan, chief of the Vietnam National Administration of Tourism, told Thanh Nien the agency is reviewing the details of Thailand’s new visa rules.
“It is true that a number of Vietnamese capitalized on visa exemptions to work illegally in Thailand, and we believe that's wrong.
“But Thailand’s new rules may hurt Vietnamese tourists and badly affect the fine relationship that has developed between the two countries,” Tuan said.