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ResourcesVisa & Immigration LawVisa NewsThe Ballad of "Big Joke" and Biometrics

The Ballad of "Big Joke" and Biometrics

Transcript of the above video:

As the title of this video suggests, we are discussing yet again "Big Joke"; that is Surachate "Big Joke" Hakparn here in Thailand. I kind of was under the impression that we may not ever be discussing that particular gentleman again but apparently he has been in the newspapers here recently and I thought it was kind of warranted to make this video although probably not for the reasons that people think.

There have been a couple of headlines of major note, one from Khaosod English. "Big Joke" says he is targeted for refusing to sign biometric project. One other headline, Gunshots Pepper "Big Joke's" Car, that is the Bangkok Post. Another from the Bangkok Post, most recently as of the time of this video is, Prayut Warns "Big Joke" to Behave.  So I am not going to get into the actual details of all of these articles. I urge those who are watching this video to go ahead and check out those articles directly.

What I wanted to bring up as it pertains to the bailiwick of this particular channel is both "Big Joke" himself and Biometrics generally. Both of these things, both the individual as well as technology, have had a tremendous impact on the overall Thai Immigration system and by tremendous, I really mean in the past roughly 2 ½ - 3 years this has been a sea change with respect to Thai Immigration policy, Thai Immigration enforcement and the sophistication of their information tracking and gathering apparatus if you will.

So first of all just to sort of recap, for those who are unaware "Big Joke" was Chief of Thai Immigration before he was dismissed from that post. He instituted a great number of changes. Most notably on his watch we saw effectively the end of the Income Affidavit regime which was maintained by US Embassy, UK Embassy and Australia, namely. Basically those embassies provided Income Affidavits that one had a certain amount of income in order to stay in Thailand. This was a relatively straightforward way of proving up one's financial ability to maintain oneself on a Retirement Visa. That was phased out because the embassies themselves basically changed their policies and said we are no longer going to issue those Affidavits. Thereafter, "Big Joke" himself created some regulations with respect to the Bt.800,000 or Bt. 400,000 bank balances which needed to be maintained for Retirement Visas and Marriage Visas respectively, also, with respect to scrutiny of income being brought into the Kingdom. Prior to this, I won’t say the scrutiny of this was lax, but it definitely was not as stringent as it currently is and those who are dealing with Retirement Visa extensions or dealing with Marriage Visa extensions here in the Kingdom are probably well aware that the documentation requirements have shifted and the general demeanor or the general paradigm of the Immigration Officers reviewing such documentation has changed a lot.  They are a lot more stringent and as I have stated in many videos previously, they are taking much more of a law enforcement stance with respect to this rather than viewing it purely as an administrative endeavor and that is a major change; that is a major change with respect to the paradigm within Immigration. 

So the thing to take away from this video specifically with respect to "Big Joke" is the fact that in the history of Thai Immigration if you will, I think you can safely say his tenure in office was a turning point; it was a watershed moment if you will. From there forward we effectively have had a fundamentally different regime especially with respect to Immigration enforcement and this was most noteworthy in the fact that during his regime, we saw a lot more crackdowns and raids which resulted in a lot more arrests and deportation of illegal and undocumented aliens here in the Kingdom and then thereafter his successor "Big Oud" who is currently in charge of Thai Immigration, he has gone ahead and although not really instituting a policy of the sort of wider crackdowns, crackdowns are still occurring. They are still looking for those who are in violation of their Immigration status here in Thailand. I think under the "Big Oud" era we are looking at a situation wherein, and by the way "Big Oud", his name is Sompong Chingduang, specifically Lieutenant General Sompong Chingduang. He is currently in charge of Thai Immigration. Again under his tenure we are looking at a much more narrowly focused set of enforcement initiatives rather than the sort of broader dragnets if you will that we saw under the "Big Joke" era.  That being said, I think this more stems from the larger volume of illegal individuals here in Thailand has diminished. I don't think there are nearly as many and there seems to be a concerted effort of utilizing the public to basically complain about what are perceived to be illegal aliens in the Kingdom through the hotline. There is a complaint hotline and those folks can be reported and it seems that Immigration currently is using that in an effort to again figure out who is in the country illegally and go ahead and arrest and deport them if it is warranted. So "Big Joke" sort of set all this off.

It is also notable that in this whole situation, Biometrics is also a key issue because Biometrics has really as much as "Big Joke" probably more so, and it will probably have a more lasting impact on Thai Immigration as a whole. Biometrics is a significant game changer with respect to Thai Immigration's capability, especially with respect to finding folks who have been previously blacklisted, finding folks who may have arrest warrants for example. Biometrics may lead to a coordinated effort with the law enforcement, the Thai Police or department of special investigations for example where folks have warrants and their Biometrics are on file, that information is now being cross referenced between various agencies and people are being picked up through Immigration checkpoints when coming into or out of the country or interacting with Immigration in an extension environment for example or with respect to a 90-day report or for example for the TM30. All of this can happen, and can result in one being found to be in unlawful status. Biometrics is the primary reason for this. That technology has not been in use in Thailand up until I think saying it's been online as a practical matter for a year is little bit of a long time frame. It hasn't been being used for very long. That being stated the fact that it has only been in use for a short time has not negated its ability. We have seen a lot of results where people have been apprehended due to biometric readings, fingerprints for example, facial recognition and been determined to be traveling into Thailand on false documentation, determined to have prior arrest warrants perhaps abroad, perhaps in Thailand and they are being summarily dealt with. This is a major sea change from before. 5 years ago there simply was not this capability within the Thai Immigration apparatus and I think it is noteworthy to sort of look back as we are starting 2020 to look back on 2018 and 2019 when all this stuff was being rolled out and now it is being fully implemented and it is having a tremendous impact on Immigration matters here in the Kingdom of Thailand.