BANGKOK: Thai authorities have implemented new visa regulations aimed at boosting tourism and tightening loopholes often abused by those who want to extend their stay.

Previously, tourists from 48 countries, including the United States, the United Kingdom and Singapore, could stay in Thailand for 30 days with a visa-exemption stamp from the Thai immigration. Now, for a small fee, they can extend their stay for another 30 days at immigration checkpoints within Thailand, without leaving the country. But this can only be done once.

While this is good news for those who want to stay in Thailand legitimately for a longer period of time, it affects those who are used to abusing the previous system, which allowed visitors to use the 30-day tourist visa extension stamp multiple times. In the past, some visitors had even gone on so-called “visa runs” – constantly leaving and entering Thailand’s border to get their passports re-stamped, to extend their stay indefinitely.

An expat from Canada who requested anonymity, going only by the name of John, said that the impact of the new ruling has already been felt. “People are worried about what’s going to happen,” he said. “I’ve been to farewell parties for friends who really wanted to stay here but now can’t.” 

The new regulation also tackles those who exploited loopholes in the education visa system. Prior to the changes, some education visa holders enrolled in fake study courses to extend their stay by a year, or in some cases, several years. The new law however only allows for a 90-day extension for education visa holders.

Authorities have also vowed to scrutinise more closely the schools in which the visa holders are enrolled.

“Officers are very strict now,” said Dr Prachern Tiyapunjanit, an immigration barrister with a firm associate with Baker&‎McKenzie. “They will look at documents from the school, attendance records, fees received before extending for another 90 days; every 90 days students will have to verify their authenticity as students.”

Still, Thailand’s new Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha has said that the authorities will act with restraint on visa runners, despite the tough new measures. Thai authorities refused Channel NewsAsia’s request to comment on the new regulations. Details of the new rules are available on the Immigration Bureau’s website but it is unclear as to how the authorities will actually enforce the regulation on foreigners who regularly enter Thailand.