BANGKOK (THE NATION/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - Visitors from Singapore and Hong Kong will soon be breezing through immigration at Suvarnabhumi and Don Mueang international airports as authorities implement a new scheme to allow them to use automatic passport scanners currently reserved for Thai nationals.
Immigration bureau commissioner Pol Lt-General Nathathorn Prousoontorn said the move would reduce the immigration processing time per person from about one minute to 20 to 30 seconds, and eligible visitors would not have to queue for about 30 minutes as is now the case.
"We plan to introduce this new system for those from Singapore and Hong Kong this month or next month. Cooperation with Singapore on the matter is nearly 100 per cent complete, but for Hong Kong we need more discussions," he told The Nation.
There are a total of 52 automatic passport check machines at Suvarnabhumi and Don Mueang, some of which will be allocated for foreigners. Nathathorn said they were currently available for Thai nationals on arrival and departure, but only 70 per cent of them used the machines.
Software will be installed on the machines so they can also read information on the passports of the foreign visitors. The system will later be extended to border checkpoints in Nong Khai and Sa Kaew provinces.
"Those who want to use the privileges will be required to register with the Thai immigration office before they come to Thailand, so we can upload their information to our system," Nathathorn said. "Once registered, they will be able to enjoy the privileges when they enter and exit the country."
Visitors from Hong Kong and Singapore were chosen to use the machines because they made more frequent visits to Thailand compared to people from other places.
"It is true that 9 million Chinese tourists visit Thailand each year, while visitors from Hong Kong and Singapore were much fewer - about 1 million," Nathathorn said.
"But Chinese tourists usually visit Thailand once and never come back. Those from Hong Kong and Singapore come here several times per year."
The bureau plans to expand the privilege to countries with no-visa requirements such as Australia and parts of Europe. However because of security concerns, it will not be available to visitors from parts of the Middle East, South Asia and Africa.