MOWING YOUR LAWN IN THAILAND COULD GET YOUR ARRESTED AND DEPORTED – You’re probably thinking that the headline is completely bonkers; after all what Government authority would consider a foreign national mowing his or her lawn as ‘work’?
This story starts off with a recent tale of two innocent foreign expats, one German, the other Swiss, living in Thailand. Their crime was to build their own boats in the own back gardens.
Yes this may seem like an innocent enough pursuit of a no doubt rewarding hobby but for the Thai authorities this is a clear breach of Thai law; in that such an activity requires a work permit.
Going back to 2004, when a tsunami hit the holiday island of Phuket and caused massive damage along other coastal areas, such a Koa Lak, there was rightfully an outpouring to human generosity around the globe in order to help Thailand recover from such a devastating disaster.
The tsunami struck mid-morning on the 26th December 2004 and within less than a month there were literally hundreds of volunteers helping to clean up the carnage and help those who had lost so much.
As the swathes of foreign volunteers continued to grow the Thai authorities decided it was time to clamp down and issued a firm notice; either obtain a work permit or face arrest, prosecution and deportation.
At the time this caused some to question whether Thailand deserved any help; after all nobody was asking for any type of financial reward, it was merely about help their fellow man regardless of any nationalistic divide.
Unfortunately the Thais didn’t appear to look at it this way; we asked one volunteer to recount his experience:
“We heard the news that the local Thai authorities were clamping down on volunteers and demanding we had work permits. I and my five mates flew in specifically to help as we were all builders and could therefore apply our trade to clearing debris etc.
We decided to play it safe and talk to some officials. It turned out that we were asked to leave the country in order to obtain a work permit and then return with it to process more paper work.
We pointed out that we were not here to work but rather just to help out. The response was an un-moving position and we were told that we either produced a work permit or we would be arrested and deported; right after being prosecuted and fined.
We actually felt as if the Thais didn’t want us there; it was as if we were interfering in their issues – we all flew out 2 days later and we’ve never returned.”
It might seem slightly unbelievable but the Thai authorities appear to take the position of having a work permit, whether it is for paid or unpaid work, very seriously.
It is of course understandable that the Thai authorities would want ensure that foreigners are not taking the jobs of Thai citizens and therefore close monitoring of the situation must continue; but what about the two chaps building their own boats?
The Phuket Immigration chief, Sunchai Chokkajaykij, confirmed that the two men had indeed committed an offence for any foreigner working within the yachting and marine industry must have a work permit to do so – even if that work is unpaid.
According to immigration staff they have been targeting foreign workers for some time and they are now going to take further measures in order to clamp down on the practice.
Such news sent shock-waves through the local expat community and it wasn’t long after the news broke that the Thai expat forums lit up with questions on what is and what is not considered at paid or unpaid work.
One person asked whether it was illegal to mow his own lawn. The forum replies to the question confirmed that such as activity, under Thai labour laws, is considered work and therefore illegal.
Other questions quickly arose including simply Home Improvement jobs, washing the car, even doing your own shopping of which some stated that the strict interpretation of the law would in fact forbid a foreigner from engaging in any of these activities.
Is this xenophobia taken to the ultimate extreme? The initial answer might be yes but people do need to realise that the Thai authorities are trying to protect Thai jobs and indeed create new ones.
We asked another one of our internal source their view:
“This type of situation arises from time to time. Many expats here feel that this is simply a foreign witch hunt.
It sometimes feels as if foreigners are being specifically singled out and that if the Thai authorities where that adamant on executing the law to the full extent then it’s likely most of the Thai officials would be behind bars.
The trouble is here is that the Thais feel they can cherry pick which laws to enforce and often these laws are directed at foreign activities. If they were to enforce all laws adequately they would have the disabling effects of rampant corruption.”
It could perceived that if a foreigner is wealthy enough to live in Thailand without having to engage in work related activities then they should be able to afford to hire Thai staff to take care of such things like laundry, shopping, painting the house, mowing the lawn and a whole plethora of other tasks.
Whilst the case of the two boat builder’s might appear extreme it could be construed by the Thai authorities that they could indeed profit from their activities; that is sell what they built upon completion.
From a number of comments on the Thai forums, frequented by expats in order to keep up with what’s going on, it appears unlikely that the Thai authorities would start making arrests and deporting people just for mowing the lawn; although technically it’s possible.
It can be frustrating for expats regardless to which country they reside in. It must be respected that laws and customs should be adhered to. Expats do have a choice and therefore should comply with the laws in their host country.