Virginia, US

I was in Thailand earlier this year and while browsing through the TV channels at the hotel, I found one of the news programs heavily advertising “Thailand 4.0.” Thailand 4.0 is an economic model aimed at moving the country into an economy based on Smart Industries, Smart Cities, and Smart People. Aside from unlocking Smartphones with fingerprints and decreasing the volume of Smart TVs through voice command, there are now all sorts of Smart things, and it’s no wonder that Thailand also came up with their SMART Visa.

The SMART Visa seeks to attract foreign workers and investors into Thailand to contribute to its developing economy. Some of the SMART Visas categories are summarized in the table below.

SMART Visa

General Description

“T”

Talents

Highly skilled professionals in the fields of science and technology who will work in targeted industries

“I”

Investors

Investors in companies using technologies in manufacturing or delivering services in targeted industries

“E”

Senior Executives

Senior executives working in companies using technology in manufacturing or delivering services in targeted industries

“S”

Start-up Entrepreneurs

Foreign start-up entrepreneurs who wish to invest in targeted industries

“O”

Spouse and Children

Family members of SMART (T/I/E/S) Visa holders

 

It is important to note that anyone applying for the SMART Visa must do so with evidence that they are supporting one of the country’s targeted industries, including:

  • Next-Generation Automotive;
  • Smart Electronics;
  • Affluent, Medical and Wellness Tourism;
  • Agriculture and Biotechnology;
  • Food for the Future;
  • Automation and Robotics;
  • Aviation and Logistics;
  • Biofuels and Biochemicals;
  • Digital; or
  • Medical Hub.
 
The SMART Visa is an initiative of the Board of Investment (BOI), a government agency established to encourage companies to invest in Thailand. For companies that are registered under the BOI, part of the current incentive (even before the SMART Visa was introduced) is that the BOI provides pre-approvals to foreigners applying for work permits in Thailand, allowing for a more straightforward application procedure for the employee and the BOI-registered employer.
 

The new SMART Visa appears to be another alternative pushed by the BOI, with an ostensibly streamlined application process and a publicized processing time of 30 business days for a work permit (of up to 4 years’ validity), as compared to the current regular application track, which can take up to 40 business days for a work permit (of only 1-2 years’ validity). Existing holders of a regular work permit and visa in Thailand will also be familiar with the tedious 90-day report, which is expected to be replaced by a yearly report for a SMART Visa holder. These are just two examples of the benefits that make it evident why companies and individuals would flock to this new visa option.

While this all seems appealing, looking through the chart of the application process (page 7) will show that some parts of the process involve several government agencies other than the BOI. The BOI has generally been efficient with its processes, but it remains to be seen how other government agencies will impact the work permit process. Many of these other agencies have not  been engaged with vetting foreigners’ work permit applications previously. I personally come from a country with plenty of bureaucratic practices, and experience tells me that the participation of different government offices can complicate and lengthen the process beyond what was promised.
 
Digging a bit further, the requirements to apply for the SMART Visa are also very vague. Attempts to clarify the requirements with top-level authorities are met with unclear guidelines and ambiguity on how to successfully obtain this new visa. Also, it is likely that those who will be reviewing the applications are not the same people who created the program, so it will take a great deal of effort to maintain standards across teams. Taking a well-intended concept (as the SMART Visa is) and combining it with additional input from new government agencies and the somewhat inconsistent adjudication of the applications by lower-level officers makes it clear how much more the path must be cleared for this new visa option. Even if the SMART Visa looks promising on paper, practitioners on the ground recognize that it needs further improvement. If only we could unlock this new Thai Visa with fingerprints or command by speech to increase its process efficiency, perhaps we could have a sincerely SMART-er Visa.
 
Until then, we will continue to play it smart with the current process with an eye on the future.
 
For any further queries, please reach me at kevangelista@fragomen.com.