Thailand unveils ‘Smart Visa’ to attract skilled expats

At a time when a number of G20 countries have recently been tightening up on their visa programmes and other avenues used by foreigners seeking to work in within their borders, Thailand has approved a new four-year visa said to be aimed at attracting investment-minded entrepreneurs, skilled professionals and other skilled workers.

The new “Smart Visa” was approved by Thai lawmakers yesterday, according to reports in the English-language Thai news media, which noted that the application process is due to open up on 1 February.

According to a report on the website of The Nation, one of Thailand’s main English language media organisations, the industries being targeted by the Smart Visa include Thai-based industries known as “the First S-Curve”, as well as new industries referred to as “the New S-Curve”.

“First S-Curve industries include next-generation automotive, smart electronics, medical and wellness tourism, ‘food for the future’, and agriculture and biotechnology,” the report, which cited as its source a ministerial official named Kobsak Pootrakool, explained.

The New S-Curve industries are described as “automation and robotics, aviation and logistics, biochemicals and eco-friendly petrochemicals, digital businesses, and medical hubs”.

Officially the Smart Visa scheme divides up the targeted professions into four groups, one of which is specialists in scientific fields in which there is a shortage, and another that includes “investors in companies that in turn invest in targeted industries”, according to the report in The Nation.

A writer at the Phuket Gazette, meanwhile, suggested the new Smart Visa might be a “solution for some, but not all, of the ‘digital nomads’ [who] have become ubiquitous in Thailand, from all over the world…taking their professional careers along with them, and logging in to their job remotely from some far-flung cafe overlooking rice paddies in Chiang Mai, or a beach in Phuket”.

Such digital nomads, this writer went on, “come in all shapes and sizes, professions and ages”, but in common “will be their laptop and all their accessories and spare batteries, spread over a table in a cafe offering free wi-fi.

“They can be backpackers-with-a-laptop or high-end executives making squillions by playing the stock and financial markets.”

As it remains to be seen whether these nomads will qualify for the new Smart Visa – a minimum monthly income of 200,000 baht per month (£4,536, US$6,258) might eliminate quite a few of them – many may be expected, for now at least, to continue to “play the Tourist Visa game, and do the ‘visa runs’ and border crossings to stay in the Kingdom”, the Phuket Gazette writer, an Australian expatriate named  Tim Newton, concluded.

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