BANGKOK – Thailand, called the ‘Land of Smiles’, is rolling out the red carpet for foreign workers, joining a bevy of countries looking to use the immigration route to boost their economies.

Top professionals, eligible high net-worth individuals and retirees can start applying online from Thursday to stay for as long as 10 years in Thailand, according to Mr Chayotid Kridakon, an adviser to Thailand’s prime minister.

The government has set the target of attracting one million wealthy or talented foreigners to the country over the next five years, he said at an event in Bangkok.

The new visa program, unveiled more than a year earlier and launched formally on Wednesday, seeks to build on post-pandemic efforts to welcome back visitors to the South-east Asian nation, where tourism accounts for some 12 per cent of gross domestic product.

The move to tap remote talent, which mirrors steps by countries including Singapore and the United Arab Emirates, is seen helping add value to an economy that’s expected to grow 3.3 per cent this year, the slowest pace in the region.

“The pandemic has disrupted workplace policies and introduced flexibility in terms of location as well as job scope, with few countries looking to capitalise on this shift by offering long-term residencies (LTR) with attractive sops,” said Ms Radhika Rao, an economist with DBS Bank in Singapore. “Host countries also count on such arrivals to add to the talented labour pool in the country as well as boost the economy from incremental demand lift-off.”

The visa initiative can generate economic activities equivalent to about 1 trillion baht (S$38 billion) annually by way of investment and purchase of properties by the new entrants, Mr Chayotid said.

The program will also help draw professionals to industries such as electric vehicles, smart electronics and digital technology that Thailand is focused on promoting, he said.

“The long-term resident visa program will help Thailand in the post-Covid economic recovery,” Ms Duangjai Asawachintachit, secretary-general of Thailand’s Board of Investment, said on Wednesday. “The validity period of LTR is the longest probably, and with so many expats working in Thailand for a long time, this meets a long-standing demand.”

The government is betting on a rebound in foreign tourist arrivals to power economic growth next year to 4.2 per cent, which would be the fastest pace of expansion since 2018.

While wealthy expats living in Thailand already had access to a “pay to stay” visa program, the new initiative will spare professionals from dealing with one-year work, retirement or marriage permits that often require multiple trips to government offices, lawyers and fixed-deposits in local banks.

The Joint Foreign Chambers of Commerce said the new visa regime will make Thailand an attractive place to work and buy a second home for global citizens.

“Work permit and visa has been the biggest obstacle for all investors in Thailand over a decade and LTR offers a solution,” said Ms Vibeke Lyssand Leirvag, chairwoman of the Joint Foreign Chambers of Commerce in Thailand. “If we do this right, the five-year one million target and one trillion baht domestic spending should be reachable.” BLOOMBERG