Having embarked on the path to transform Thailand's economic model into a value-based and innovation-driven economy, known as Thailand 4.0, the government has launched a number of initiatives, including measures to attract more foreign businesses to invest in the country in targeted industries. One of the measures taken by the government to promote foreign investment is a new special type of visa called the “SMART Visa”. This new type of visa is expected to accelerate growth of targeted industries and encourage pioneering investment in technology and innovative sectors by attracting foreign experts, executives, entrepreneurs and investors to work or invest in Thailand. It is also expected to enhance knowledge transfer and increase the overall competitiveness of Thailand in the global economy

Under the recently issued Notification of the Ministry of Interior Regarding the Permission to Allow Certain Groups of Foreigners to Enter and Stay in the Kingdom on a Special Case for Foreign Experts, Executives, Entrepreneurs and Investors 2018 (B.E. 2561), foreign experts, executives, startup entrepreneurs, and investors (Eligible Foreigners) are able to apply for the new SMART Visa at Thai embassies abroad, or the One-Stop Service Center for Visas and Work Permits in Bangkok starting from 1 February 2018. To qualify as Eligible Foreigners, foreigners must work or invest in one of the following ten industries, known as “S-Curve industries”:

  1. Next-Generation Automotive;
  2. Smart Electronics;
  3. Affluent, Medical and Wellness Tourism;
  4. Agriculture and Biotechnology;
  5. Food for the Future;
  6. Automation and Robotics;
  7. Aviation and Logistics;
  8. Biofuels and Biochemicals;
  9. Digital; and
  10. Medical Hub

The qualifications, criteria and privileges vary among the different groups of foreigners. We have summarized the key qualifications and visa privileges as shown in the table below.

Groups of Foreigners Key Qualifications Visa Privileges
1. Foreign Experts

1. Having expertise in science and technology relevant to the targeted industries, certified by agencies within the network of the Strategic Talent Center (STC) (except for experts who work for a government agency);

2. Having been certified for engaging in the targeted industries by the National Innovation Agency (Public Organization) (NIA) and the Digital Economy Promotion Agency (DEPA);

3. Having a minimum salary of no less than Baht 200,000 or equivalent per month (exclusive of other benefits and welfare); and

4. Having an employment contract or service contract, which has the remaining term of at least one year from the filing date or having evidence of engagement with a government agency.

1. Visas that have the validity not exceeding the remaining employment/service contract terms, but not exceeding four years.

2. No re-entry permit is required.

2. Investors

1. Directly investing as an individual investor in one or more businesses that use technology as a base in manufacturing or delivering services, and are in one or more of the targeted industries with at least Baht 20 million worth of investment throughout the period for which the SMART Visa has been granted; and

2. The business to be set up or invested in must be certified by the NIA, DEPA and National Science and Technology Development Agency (NSTDA) as being a business using technology in manufacturing or delivering services and being in the targeted industries.

1. Visas that have the validity not exceeding four years.

2. No re-entry permit is required

3. Executives

1. Having a minimum salary of no less than Baht 200,000 or equivalent per month (exclusive of other benefits and welfare);

2. Having an employment contract with a company in Thailand or in a foreign country with an assignment to work in Thailand. The remaining term of the employment contract must be at least one year from the filing date; and

3. Holding a senior management position, such as Chairman or Managing Director. The employer must be certified by the NIA, DEPA and NSTDA, as using technology in manufacturing or delivering services and being in the targeted industries.

1. Visas that have the validity not exceeding four years, but not exceeding the remaining employment contract terms.

2. No re-entry permit is required.

4. Startup Entrepreneurs

1. Having a fixed deposit account in Thailand, or in a foreign country with a balance of not less than Baht 600,000 or equivalent and the remaining maturity term of at least one year;

2. Participating in an incubation or accelerator program, or a similar program certified by the NIA, and the DEPA; and

3. The applicant must set up a business in Thailand within one year from the date that a SMART Visa is granted. The business or investment activities must be certified as being in the targeted industries by the NIA and the DEPA, and the applicant must be the shareholder holding not less than 25 percent of the registered capital, or must be the director of the company.

1. Visas that have the validity of one year.

2. No re-entry permit is required.

 

Most importantly, the Ministry of Labour, the main authority responsible for issuing work permits for foreigners, has recently issued a notification exempting the above group of foreigners, i.e. foreign experts, executives, startup entrepreneurs, and investors from having to comply with the main legislation on work permit requirements, the Emergency Decree on Managing the Work of Aliens B.E. 2560 (2017) (Managing Work of Aliens Decree). On this basis, Eligible Foreigners who have obtained a SMART Visa can legally start working in Thailand throughout the validity period of their SMART Visas, without having to separately obtain work permits from the Ministry of Labour.

In short, foreign experts, executives, entrepreneurs, and investors of the above ten S-Curve Industries falling under the Eligible Foreigners category will no longer have to go through the long bureaucratic process to apply for non-immigrant B visas to enter and stay in Thailand, work permits to be able to work in Thailand, and lastly the permit-to-stay enabling them to stay in Thailand longer than the initial 90-day under the non-immigrant B visas. The SMART Visa also entitles Eligible Foreigners' dependents, i.e. lawful spouses and lawful children to the right to stay in Thailand, as the Eligible Foreigners themselves.

It has always been a requirement under the Ministry of Labour and the enacted legislation, the Alien's Work Act B.E. 2551 (2008) and the current legislation, the Managing Work of Aliens Decree, for foreigners to obtain a work permit before they start working in Thailand. Work permit requirements are also applicable, even to those foreign employees working for employers who benefit from the privileges granted by the Thailand Board of Investment under the investment promotion scheme.

By seriously relaxing the visa and working restrictions on Eligible Foreigners and allowing them to benefit from the SMART Visa, the Thai government has demonstrated its serious intention to ensure that Thailand strives to modernize under the Thailand 4.0 plan.

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