In these difficult times, the contribution of expatriates to the Thai economy and social stability is sometimes overlooked, even underestimated. Some would add under appreciated. Reliable sources put the number of foreigners with work permits in Thailand at over 220,000, excluding those from Cambodia, Laos and Myanmar. Of these work permit holders, about half live in Bangkok. Many have invested in their own companies and provide employment for countless Thai people. Others employed by a Thai company often play a role that includes training and lifting local expertise for the long-term benefit of the country. All of these expats pay a range of taxes which go, of course, to the government’s coffers. They are also a major investor in property, a key business sector.
On top of work permit holders, there are an estimated 100,000 people on retirement visas, plus about the same again on O type marriages visas, bringing the total number of foreigners living in Thailand on a permanent basis to probably around half a million. Yet to be included in this figure are the many foreigners who, until the Covid19 epidemic, live here on a semi-permanent basis, usually about half the year.
What is often overlooked (mainly by the authorities) is that most retirees and foreign spouses live here on pensions from overseas. Pensions are fixed monthly payments that remain unaffected by the worldwide economic slowdown.
The monetary value of this group is therefore immense and particularly important right now, since a large percentage of Thailand’s expat pensioners live with their families in rural villages and upcountry towns, where the effects of Covid19 are being felt the most. While these households are clearly faring comparatively well, they are also helping local communities to survive by maintaining their spending on local goods and services.
However, when it comes to renewing visas to remain in Thailand, many feel quite understandably that their contribution is not understood or appreciated. The application process has never been easy but seems to get more complicated by the year. Instead of making it ever more difficult to stay in Thailand, the authorities should find a way to make less troublesome for this valuable and stable group.