EFFECTIVE FEBRUARY 1, 2018, qualifying foreign experts, executives, entrepreneurs, and investors working or investing in the science and technology industries in Thailand may be eligible for a Smart visa.
This is a welcome incentive that could help reduce administrative burdens and costs for those qualifying for the Smart visa and their employers. There are also important benefits for accompanying family members. The Smart visa is offered to those above individuals who wish to work or to invest in Thailand in the 10 targeted S-Curve industries.
Qualifying applicants must submit a Smart visa application along with supporting documents to the Smart Visa Unit, a newly established department under the Board of Investment.
The Smart Visa Unit will process applications, including assessing technical qualifications, identifying and sorting through immigration issues, confirming whether the applied occupations are not legally prohibited by various designated agencies, and obtaining verification and endorsement from relevant government agencies that employer companies and start-up companies are in the targeted S-Curve industries.
These processes will be completed before the Smart Visa Unit issued a qualification endorsement letter for applicant to use in applying for the Smart visa at either the Thai Embassies or Consulates (those outside Thailand) or the Immigration Bureau at the One-Stop Center (those in Thailand).
The qualification endorsement letter for the Smart visa is valid for 60 days.The total processing time is estimated at 30 working days upon receipt of a completed application dossier.
At first glance, the Smart Visa appears to be an attractive programme; however, we have reservations regarding the administrative and implementation processes.
From our review of the details of the programme, it may be difficult for individuals to meet the required criteria, since in practice, additional documents may be required. For one, there is no further guidance clarifying the industries, besides listing the 10 S-Curve industries.
Foreign start-up entrepreneurs under the Smart visa must set up a company in Thailand in order to comply with the visa requirements.
However, should the foreign entrepreneur wish to retain control of his or her company in Thailand, that entrepreneur may be required,
depending on the nature of his or her business activities, to obtain a foreign business license under the Thailand Foreign Business Act. Obtaining a licence could take up to three months.
Furthermore, Smart visa holders would still need to prove their qualification status on an annual basis, which is no different from non-immigrant visa holders who need to renew their visas and work permits on a yearly basis (or every two or four years for non-immigrant visas granted under special incentives programs by the BOI).
Overall, if candidates successfully qualify and be granted a Smart visa whilst maintaining qualifications throughout the duration of the visa, the benefits - such as not having to apply for a work permit or a re-entry permit or extension of the 90-day reporting to a year – could be considered well worth the administrative efforts required under the Smart visa.
Contributed by LYNN TASTAN, Tax Partner, Global Mobility Services, KPMG in Thailand