As Thailand has introduced a deeper security screening of visa seekers following the Erawan Shrine bomb blast, issuing visas to Bangladeshis by the Thai embassy in Dhaka has been taking much longer than usual over the last couple of months.
Bangladeshis, specially those seeking visa for treatment and business, are the worst sufferers due to the unusual delay in Thai visa processing as they have to wait for a month or more.
There is no guarantee of getting visa even after waiting for a month or two as the embassy can refuse applications without showing any reason or may ask for documents one after another.
As a result, a large number of visa cases have been pending with the Thai embassy, causing untold sufferings to the medical visa applicants and businessmen, government officials, tourists and private-sector officials who have to attend various conferences and meetings.
Usually, the embassy used to issue visas within three to four working days in the past.
From January to late February, no fewer than 20,000 Thai visa applications of Bangladeshis were left pending, sources said.
Even the credible visa seekers like Bangladesh government officials, members of the armed forces, businessmen, investors and tourists and others who make foreign trips each year for multiple purposes were not given visa on time.
Talking to The Daily Star yesterday, a footwear businessman in Dhaka said he abandoned his visit to Thailand and then travelled to China after the embassy refused him visa keeping his passport for over a month.
“Although I went to Thailand over two dozen times, this time they did not issue visa and harassed me by asking for various trade-related documents, certificates etc,” he said.
Failing to get visa after a long wait, he started business with China. He got Chinese visa easily and already made a successful trip there.
Besides, a leading travel agency official said that after nearly two months of delay, they received visas for over 1,000 applications last week. But the applicants had to face serious difficulties as many failed to keep their appointments with doctors in Thailand.
Several applicants also missed their scheduled trips abroad because the Thai embassy kept their passports.
“We made repeated requests for return of some passports and also wanted to withdraw the visa applications of those who needed passports urgently,” said the official.
“But the embassy ignored all this.”
Another top executive of a travel agency yesterday told The Daily Star that they were giving visa assistance to a large number of applicants, including a good number of government officials.
Many of their regular clients could not attend important conferences, business meetings and had to miss appointments with doctors and hospitals as the embassy issued visas after a delay of two to two and a half months.
Many of the genuine applicants were not given visa without assigning any reason, he said.
Travel agency sources alleged that the problem took a serious turn after two new officials joined the visa section in recent months. Since then, the embassy is issuing visas against 10 to 15 percent of the applications, keeping the rest pending.
An official at the foreign ministry quoted embassy officials as saying that the Thai immigration department has introduced a new system that requires approval from Bangkok for issuing visas. As a result, the local officials are unable to issue visa quickly like in the past.
Thai embassy officials could be contacted after repeated attempts but The Daily Star failed to get any comment from them.
The Bangladesh foreign ministry twice called the Thai embassy officials, asking it to explain the reasons behind the delay in visa processing. The ministry also asked for easing up visa procedures.
Officials said the foreign ministry received an unspecified number of complaints from different quarters that the Thai embassy authorities are neither speedily issuing visas nor returning the passports of the visa applicants.
Bangladesh Ambassador to Thailand Saida Muna Tasneem recently met Commander of Immigration Bureau of Thailand Police Major General Supapone Arunsit and Suvat Chirapant, Deputy Permanent Secretary in charge of visa applicants to discuss the large number of pending visa cases as well as the visa procedures.
Talking to The Daily Star over phone on Tuesday, Ambassador Tasneem said that she met top Thai government officials and drew their attention to the fact that 110,000 Bangladesh tourists visited Thailand in 2015.
Amid the concern of Dhaka, the Thai authorities recently assured the government of “necessary efforts” to make the visa process “smoother within the existing national and regional security context”.
But the sufferings of Thai visa seekers have not eased even after the assurance from the Thai authorities in Dhaka and Bangkok.