Integrity Legal

10th Jan 2010

Work Permits are always an important issue for foreign nationals living in Thailand. Under Thai law, the right to work is bifurcated from the right to remain in the Kingdom. Therefore, many find that it can be easy to be lawfully admitted to Thailand on a validly issued Thai visa and remain for relatively long periods of time, but it can be difficult to obtain work authorization in the form of a Thai work permit. One of the reasons for this difficulty is that the Thai Foreign Business Act restricts the types of activities that foreign nationals are allowed to engage in while present in Thailand. In many ways, Thailand has maintained protectionist measures in order to insulate the Thai labor force from some of the detrimental side effects of globalization.

Recently, it was announced that the government would be easing some of the restrictions in the Thai Foreign Business Act. At the same time, the Thai government has also announced that the rules still on the books would become the subject of more stringent enforcement. This leads us back to the issue of work permits. It would appear that the government is preparing to allow foreign companies to engage in certain previously restricted activities, but the upshot of this is that the rules and regulations regarding activities that are still restricted will be enforced more diligently than before.  To quote a recent posting on from the British Chamber of Commerce in Thailand Magazine:

“Unfortunately, the Labour Department has revised Work Permit regulations and a new list of the types of work foreigners are allowed to conduct will be issued by February 2010 at the latest. According to the current draft of the Ministerial Regulation, the new rules and practice will impact on current work permits (when they are extended) and also new work permits. [...] Despite the position of all foreign Chambers that liberalisation and streamlining of visa and work permit regulations would be advantageous for attracting and retaining much needed foreign investment, certain ministries appear to have taken the opposite view.”

It would appear that the Thai Ministry of Labour is taking a rather tough stance with regard to the enforcement of work permit regulations.

Although it is quite common to see such attitudes in difficult economic times, this author cannot help but wonder if this is the best course of action for the overall Thai economy. Small and medium sized businesses owned or managed by foreign nationals will likely be the most adversely impacted by this new policy and there is strong evidence that such enterprises act as the driving force for the economy-at-large. In these tough economic times, attracting foreign skilled labour and investment may be better than promulgating rules that make working in Thailand more difficult.

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