Pol Maj Gen Natthorn Prosunthorn, commander of Immigration Police Division 2 at Suvarnabhumi airport, said his team is busy not just checking passenger visas, but also protecting national security. "Immigration police must capture suspects who have outstanding arrest warrants issued by police stations nationwide," he said.
Suspects are taken by immigration officers to the stations where the warrants for their arrest were issued, the commander said.
At the moment, immigration officers are taking 10 people or more a day to police stations, which puts pressure on those left at the airport who must pick up their share of the work.
Apart from security duty, Pol Maj Gen Natthorn said staff must also provide receptions for official guests of the government, with many occurring on a daily basis.
But the most critical task is to secure the border and stop blacklisted people from getting in.
"Not everyone with a visa can enter the country. They will be sent back if they pose a threat," the commander said. "Plain-clothes police officers are also deployed to search for suspects," he added. Last year, 15,752,195 inbound passengers and 14,807,532 outbound travellers passed through the Suvarnabhumi airport's immigration counters.
Pol Maj Gen Natthorn said there is a huge shortage of immigration officers to process travel documents and electronic machines have been brought in to help them do the work. Authorities have deployed a number of automatic channel machines to check Thai passports, the commander said.
The equipment has helped shorten queues at the immigration desk, he said.
"It is impossible to hire more officials to match the ever growing number of passengers. So, the best way is to use machines which will boost work efficiency," he added.
Pol Maj Gen Natthorn also proposed recruiting translators of Russian, Chinese, Korean and Japanese languages to assist immigration officers.
People with a bachelor's degree who are well-versed in foreign languages should also be hired as police officers on contract, he suggested. Candidates would undergo immigration training for four months before working.
Pol Capt Saroj Tirakijphanich, deputy inspector of Immigration Division 2, said checking passports is a challenging task requiring considerable experience.
Many passports have been forged using counterfeiting technology which is hard to detect.
Sometimes the passports are genuine but the people who carry them are not the real owners but lookalikes, he said.
Each official checks around 5,000-6,000 visas per month.
As an incentive, an immigration officer who can deliver a record number of visa checks will be awarded with an overseas package tour. The highest record so far is 27,000 visa checks per month.
This is the first story in a series marking the 6th anniversary of Suvarnabhumi airport. Tomorrow: Continuing the battle against bird strikes at the airport.