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Colonel Chanatpol at the new Immigration HQ

Exclusive: Immigration HQ will be a 'Visa Heaven'

Sunday, January 27, 2008
A NEW Immigration headquarters is set to open in Phuket City in March 2008, bringing state-of-the-art technology, closer ties with the Tourist Police, and greater ease in obtaining and renewing visas.

The Superintendent of Phuket Immigration, Police Colonel Chanatpol Yongbunjerd, recently gave Phuketwan an exclusive preview tour of the fresh white building.

He also provided a glimpse at the future for visitors and expat residents who come seeking more time in Thailand.

A modern Internet-connected system will soon allow resorts and guest houses to advise Immigration of arrivals and departures free from the paperwork and delays of the old system.

In a breakthrough for official transparency, a committee of interested parties from outside the department is to be set up to offer feedback and advice on improvements to the entire Immigration system.

By making the leap to modern data exchange, the Immigration innovations are likely to speed the rapid adoption of new technology by other government departments and agencies on Phuket and probably elsewhere, too.

The new building, erected at a cost of 12 million baht, sits close to the popular Saphan Hin park, on the site of the old HQ. Temporary offices have been used during construction.

There's a lot more space in the new building, which will soon be completely fitted out. It rises to four levels.

Architectural touches reflecting the original timber immigration office are evident. The original structure also had twin stairways out the front and was built on stilts, with an airy space beneath.

Colonel Chanatpol, who transferred from Chiang Mai in November 2007, has been impressed with what he has seen of Phuket so far.

And he is promoting a new era of cooperation between expat residents and tourists and the Immigration officers.

''We are happy to help people who come to Immigration,'' the colonel said. ''People who visit love Thailand, so they are very welcome and we will do what we can to help.''

He also says the Immigration officers on Phuket are the most capable and hard-working he has seen in a long career. The officers handle up to 120 cases a day.

Among the innovations, the new building provides visa violators with spacious new cells that offer separate areas and toilet facilities for males and females.

Elsewhere there is space allocated for training, and for a committee of review that Colonel Chanatpol hopes will be able to provide suggestions for improvements.

As well as the main building in Phuket City, Immigration operates a branch office in Patong and a one-stop office in Chalong.

Here's what Colonel Chanatpol had to say on various topics:

New Internet System for Resorts
The Internet registration and data base system should have appeal to all resorts and guesthouses on the island. All that will be required is for each establishment to register, then they can access the database with a password. We think it will be much more efficient than the current system and urge all accommodation providers to look at joining in. Normally we would send our staff to pick up the paperwork or representatives from the resorts would have to bring the documentation here. The Internet provides a much more efficient solution. (The TAT recorded 628 resorts and guesthouses on Phuket in 2007, up from 552 in 2006.)

Other New Tech Ideas
Finger-scanning and photographing all visa applicants are possible new methods we are looking at introducing. We may be able to provide more documents online so people can fill them in before they come to the office.
It will still be essential to bring all the right documentation. Many people come without the complete range of documents. We also hope for an increase in staff so we can process more than 120 requests a day. With the island so popular, the number of people requesting visa extensions or resident permits is growing.

Review Committee
The idea is still being developed but we think it could work well if we have, say, representatives of the resorts, some of the key administrators on the island and perhaps representatives of other interested groups on the committee. The committee would look at levels of satisfaction and efficiency of the system and make suggestions about improvements as we go along.

Tourist Police
We've had talks with the Tourist Police and it has generally been agreed that they would benefit from working more closely with Immigration, That way, the information we have on our data base could be put to good use in specific cases. The more integrated the approach to tourists becomes, the better for everyone involved.

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