Before I had this experience, I used to think that visa / immigration scams happen only in Cambodia. But my first trip to Phuket changed that perception. Now I know that Thailand is not immune to visa scams either. I have gone through the visa on arrival formalities several times in Thailand and at different check points so the process at Phuket Airport was not going to be anything new for me. But little did I know. This was the morning of 1st of September 2015 when my Malaysia Airlines flight from Kuala Lumpur landed at Phuket International Airport. Upon entering the visa / immigration hall, I noticed a "No-Photo" sign somewhere and decided to put my camera back into my shoulder bag though I would have loved to take a picture of the hall for my blog. I took one anyway later from the other side after crossing immigration. But before I got there, I had to endure this rather disappointing scam. Keep reading...
|Immigration counters at Phuket International Airport|
The Scam Process
Visa on arrival application forms were kept at several writing stands in the hall and there was a photo stall in a corner for those who forgot to bring a 4x6 cm picture along. The lady at the photo counter was kind enough to staple my picture on the form I had filled. Up to that point everything was "as usual". Then I approached the Visa on Arrival counter where "document check" or something like that was written. The window was small so I could not see the officer inside. I pushed my documents forward. Surprisingly, the official inside returned all my documents without even looking at them except my passport and the visa application form. At the document check counters at Don Mueang and Suvarnabhumi airports in Bangkok and at the Aranyaprathet checkpoint at the Cambodia-Thailand border, all my documents like the return/forward journey air ticket, boarding card, arrival-departure card, etc. were always examined but not here. The official did not say a word or even looked at me but just pushed out his hand holding a calculator. He typed 1200 into the calculator and showed it to me. It was obvious that he was asking for 1200 THB. I knew very well that the visa on arrival fee was 1000 THB only. I tried telling him that the visa fee was not 1200 THB. He again did not speak anything but typed 1200 into his calculator again and showed it to me. Now I know that he did not want his voice recorded by someone while he was asking for 1200 THB fee for visa on arrival. It was baffling because Phuket International Airport is not even supposed to have a fast-track visa on arrival counter. Still, I said to him that I did not want a fast-track visa, just the normal one. This time he was forced to open his mouth. He just said "No normal counter here". I knew for an extra 200 THB I would be able to write an interesting article for my blog so I rather happily handed him two currency notes of 1000 THB each. He returned 800 THB to me and asked me to wait the next adjoining counter. A quick moment later, he returned my passport with the blank visa stamp on it.
Immigration Counter's Involvement
With the stamped passport in my hand, I proceeded to the immigration queues. There were a few counters with people standing in queues in front of them. I was looking for a shorter queue when an Immigration official standing there pointed me to a counter where there was no staff. As told, I proceeded to that counter and that particular immigration official quickly went behind that counter and took my passport from my hand. Then he told me to look at the webcam at the counter. A few seconds later, my passport was back in my hand with the immigration done and the visa stamp signed and completed. It was a blazing fast visa/immigration process and the fastest I had experienced anywhere else in Thailand before. Even this immigration official had not asked to look at any of my documents, not even my return ticket. I knew that I was supposed to get a receipt for the visa fee payment. The immigration official was already asking me to move towards the baggage claim area but I stopped and asked him about the fee receipt. He said, "no receipt" and when I tried saying something again, he pointed me to go back to the visa document check counters. Usually the fee receipt is handed over to the visitor by the last immigration official. I was still thinking what to do when another official from the next immigration counter said something to him in Thai language. My immigration official again said to me "no receipt" and told me to leave. It was enough, and I started towards the baggage claim area.
What Was Wrong There
It was obvious that all the visa / immigration officials on duty there were aware of the ongoing scam. The super speed of the document check official, and the sudden hurry of the immigration official in taking my picture and sending me away point to the possibility that they were targeting tourists from selected nationalities for this scam. If I had stood in one of the queues and talked to some other tourist there, probably the other tourist would have told me that they had paid only 1000 THB. They did not give me a receipt because if they did, it would be a receipt for 1000 THB only. I am particularly upset with their conduct of not seeing my onward/return journey ticket. Visa on arrival is valid for a maximum of 15 days only and that is why an applicant's air ticket is examined to make sure that they would leave Thailand within 15 days. At Phuket International Airport, however, the extra 200 THB were more important to the officials than the national security of Thailand. Later, during my stay in Thailand I read a news article about one of the suspects in the Erawan bombing incident of August 17, 2015. That particular suspect was said to have entered Thailand illegally by paying a bribe of 600 US dollars. What an ignorant chap, he just paid too much. He could easily have entered Thailand through the Phuket International Airport by paying a bribe of just 200 THB.
|Posted by Narinder Singh|