Although Albert had visited Thailand many times since his conviction, research on the internet convinced him that changes in immigration policy would make it impossible for him to visit again.
Approximately 35 years ago I was convicted of a sexual offence and received a suspended prison sentence. The details of the offence are not really relevant to the story and I’m mindful that when you put something in writing it can look as though you’re trying to minimise what happened – I don’t want to do that. All I will say is that my life now is very, very different to how it was at the time of my conviction.
I’ve been married to my second wife for over 25 years and although she’s originally from Thailand, she’d been living and working in the UK for several years when I met her. I told her all about my conviction as soon as I realised that things were getting serious between us and thankfully, she understood that it was a one-off incident which still caused me tremendous shame and guilt.
My wife and my grown-up children from my first marriage get on extremely well and so my wife booked a holiday for all of us to visit her family in Thailand. My wife and I have visited the country many times since we married, the last time was in 2015, and I’ve never had any problems. However, since she’d booked the holiday, I started to read lots of articles online about how Thai Border Control had invested in new high-tech equipment just so they could keep sex offenders out of the country.
The more I read, the more worried I became. I’d convinced myself that I’d be stopped by immigration as soon as I landed and would be immediately deported back to the UK; this would be devastating for my wife and children. The worry was with me constantly; I wasn’t sleeping or eating, and I felt sick all the time. My anxiety was compounded by the fact that I’d never told my children about my conviction – as it had happened when they were just babies, it was something I didn’t think I needed to tell them.
My wife kept asking me what was wrong, but I didn’t have the courage to tell her about the tough new laws in Thailand. She was looking forward to seeing her family so much and we’d saved so hard for all the family to travel. I couldn’t bear for my family to see me being carted off by immigration after I’d had my face scanned and fingerprints taken and I started to think that I’d just have to make some excuse and stay at home whilst my wife and children travelled on their own.
I decided to have one last look online before I told my family that I couldn’t go with them, when I came across a helpline for people with convictions and decided to give them a ring. A wonderful guy listened to me and eventually said:
No need to panic, the situation’s the same as the last time you visited”.
He told me that I didn’t need a visa to travel to Thailand if I was going to stay for less than 30 days. He told me that what I’d read online about people being deported generally related to those who were on the Sex Offenders Register and who’d had their passports flagged by the police. As my conviction was prior to the introduction of the register and as I didn’t need to inform the police of my intention to travel, there was no way that any flag would be put on my passport. Therefore, nobody in either the UK or Thailand would be aware of my criminal record.
I can’t tell you the difference this information has made to my life and I’m so excited about my trip. However, I’m so sad that as a result of these tough new immigration rules, so many people will think twice about visiting ( or indeed be denied entry to) a country which has some breath-taking islands with wonderful beaches, great food and amazing festivals.
By Albert (name changed to protect identity)