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Archive for the ‘Legal News’ Category

29th January 2017

For those who have been following the news in recent days it is not new information that President Donald Trump has signed new executive orders with respect to US immigration and travelers from various countries. Effectively, these orders ban certain foreign nationals from obtaining a visa to the USA or entering the USA for at least 90-120 days. Although at present it appears that these orders will only directly impact nationals of Iraq, Syria, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, and Yemen there are certain aspects of the order which may impact the US immigration process in a broad sense. For example so-called “extreme vetting” protocols which these orders call for may conceivably be implemented by State Department personnel worldwide in connection with the US visa process. Furthermore, it now appears that those who already hold green cards, but are outside of the USA may be turned away by United States Customs and Border Protection (USCBP) or be required to undergo further screening which was not required for reentry to the USA in the past.

Many following this story may be asking themselves: by what authority is the President able to impose these recent restrictions? Pursuant to 8 U.S. Code § 1182:

Whenever the President finds that the entry of any aliens or of any class of aliens into the United States would be detrimental to the interests of the United States, he may by proclamation, and for such period as he shall deem necessary, suspend the entry of all aliens or any class of aliens as immigrants or nonimmigrants, or impose on the entry of aliens any restrictions he may deem to be appropriate.

It should further be noted that the same statute goes on to mention that the Attorney General has specific powers with regard to the aforementioned issue:

Whenever the Attorney General finds that a commercial airline has failed to comply with regulations of the Attorney General relating to requirements of airlines for the detection of fraudulent documents used by passengers traveling to the United States (including the training of personnel in such detection), the Attorney General may suspend the entry of some or all aliens transported to the United States by such airline.

Clearly, the President has statutory authority to impose restrictions like those recently created by Trump. The section regarding the power of the Attorney General in this regard is mentioned because in many cases individuals affected by these new rules will be denied the ability to board an airline bound for the USA as airlines and airline personnel do not wish to be the subject of fines and sanctions associated with transporting someone to the USA who has a strong chance of being refused entry.

As of the time of this writing, it remains to be fully seen exactly how these recent executive orders will play out. This is especially true in light of the fact that certain legal actions have resulted in court orders against implementation of these initiatives. Notwithstanding these developments it is very likely that many of the recently enacted restrictions will remain, at least for practical purposes, in place in the foreseeable future.

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17th January 2017

It recently came to this blogger’s attention that law enforcement authorities are set to shortly begin implementation of electronic monitoring of suspected criminals who have been released on bail. In a recent article in The Nation it was noted that the initiative has begun in an effort to create a more equitable system for accused defendants who seem to fall in a sort of middle category between those accused of minor offenses and those accused of more serious violations of the law. Those who are unable to make bail and looking at trial for offenses carrying less than a 5 year sentence are eligible to be released provided that such defendants are tracked using an ankle monitoring device similar to those used in the USA, UK, and other western countries.

Thailand has had issues with prison overcrowding in recent years and this initiative seems to be aimed at reducing prison populations while also providing a degree of leniency for those who cannot afford to pay bail. It should be noted that the use of these devices in limited release scenarios is entirely at the discretion of the judiciary. In most cases involving foreign nationals facing trial in Thailand it appears that bail may be the best option of ensuring release as it seems this particular initiative is intended to provide assistance to indigent Thais accused of relatively minor offenses. For more information on criminal law pertaining to foreign nationals in Thailand please see: Thailand Criminal Lawyer.

Meanwhile, in other news it appears the Thai passport has declined somewhat in the global ranking of passports based upon visa-free and visa-on-arrival numbers. Thailand fell behind some other countries as the Thai passport’s relative options for visa free travel to other countries decreased. However, Thailand’s passport remains one of the most flexible travel documents among the ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) countries. It should be noted that as of the time of this writing Thailand is not on the list of countries that the United States of America allows to utilize the visa waiver program. As a result, all Thai nationals wishing to travel to the USA must obtain a US visa before traveling. For some, this requirement can be rather cumbersome especially in light of the more stringent application of section 214(b) of the United States Immigration and Nationality Act. This section in conjunction with doctrines such as the doctrine of Consular Absolutism makes getting into the USA on a non-immigrant visa very difficult for some Thai passport holders.

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27th December 2016

In an interesting recent turn of events, it appears that a court in the USA has recognized a Thai judgment pertaining to child support obligations of a man who apparently fathered triplets in the Kingdom of Thailand. To provide further insight it is necessary to quote directly from the website of the Chicago Law Bulletin:

A man who fathered triplets through assisted conception methods in Thailand must financially support them from the U.S. after a Cook County judge properly recognized the foreign court’s parentage judgment, a state appeals panel ruled…The father — identified as [NAME REDACTED]. in the panel’s unpublished order — argued the absence of a legal marriage between him and the children’s mother — identified as [NAME REDACTED]. — makes him nothing more than a sperm donor who is entitled to protection from such judgments through the state’s Parentage Act. But the 1st District Appellate Court affirmed Cook County Circuit Judge Jeanne R. Cleveland Bernstein’s order to enroll the foreign judgment, finding it is not contrary to Illinois public policy and he had a full opportunity to defend his case in Thailand.

Readers of this blog are strongly encouraged to click on the link above to read the article in full as this is something of an anomaly in Thai-American legal discourse. As Thailand and the USA are not bound legally by more than the US-Thai Treaty of Amity there is not a framework for any sort of automatic reciprocal recognition of court judgments in either country. Therefore, a judgment made in one country with respect to parentage, custody, or support of a child (or virtually any matter) will not necessarily be deemed enforceable by courts in the other country. What makes this case notable (and there are many aspects of this case which are very interesting hence the reason the reader is encouraged to read the full article) is due to the fact that the trial court in the USA found the Thai judgment to be reasonable and therefore recognized said judgment by determining it had comity and thereafter enrolling the terms of the judgment as a judgment of the Illinois Court. Moreover, the appellate court seems to have agreed with the determination of the trial court and found that the extension of comity and the enrolling of the foreign judgment as a judgment of the Illinois Courts was proper and upheld the lower court’s decision.

It was noteworthy that the court cited the fact that the American in question had an opportunity to defend his case in the Thai system and that such opportunity (along with other factors) resulted in the court finding that the foreign judgment was not contrary to State policy.

Even within the USA, interstate family law matters can be complex, but in an international context such matters can be vexing to a degree that borders upon indiscernible. Therefore, the aforementioned case should be analyzed especially in our increasingly interconnected world as this case may be a sign of things to come.

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4th June 2016

In recent weeks the Bangkok Post has reported on a great many changes that are currently being undertaken by officials in the Thai government. In fact, it appears that the judicial system in Thailand has been the subject of rather drastic reform in recent years. To quote directly from an article posted on the Bangkok Post official website on May 18th:

Up to 35 laws concerning judicial affairs have been amended over the past two years…Of the 35 laws amended in the past two years, 11 have come into effect, he said. They are the land transport act; the bankruptcy act, the act on prevention and suppression of terrorism financing; the the anti-money laundering act; the justice fund act; the ministerial, departmental, and divisional improvement act; the act on amendments of the Civil Procedure Code. Also on the list are the act on the procedure of suspect detentions under the 1963 and the 2016 versions of the Criminal Code…

The reforms noted above have only been implemented relatively recently so it may take some time before the effects of these measures can be readily ascertained. At the same time, measures have been put in place in an attempt to thwart transnational criminals in the form of protocol changes regarding the sharing of information regarding criminal matters arising in Thailand. It also appears that new measures have been promulgated in an effort to curb corruption. Apparently, the Public Sector Anti-Corruption Commission is poised to begin more assiduous corruption suppression initiatives.

The judiciary is not the only sector seeing reform initiatives recently. The tax authorities appear to be taking measures to make the Thai tax system more equitable, especially for those employed by Thai companies operating outside of Thailand. To quote from an article from the aforementioned website from May 23rd:

The Finance Ministry is poised to adjust the personal income tax system for Thais working abroad and foreigners who work here to create fairness and attract foreign direct investment…According to the Revenue Code, employees working for companies incorporated in Thailand are subject to personal income tax regardless of where they work…The way Thailand charges personal income tax is based on where employers have been set up rather than the source of income as in other countries…Thailand’s taxation of personal income is not fair and needs to be adjusted…

It appears that the Permanent Secretary plans to propose an amendment to the Revenue code to address the currently perceived unfairness in the Revenue Code. How such a proposed amendment will ultimately fare remains to be seen, but should the amendment be adopted it would be beneficial for some employees of corporations incorporated in Thailand.

In light of these stories it is interesting that the Deputy Prime Minister of Thailand has noted Thailand’s readiness to join the Trans-Pacific Partnership (also known as the TPP). For those unaware, the TPP is a trade agreement composed of 12 countries (Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, United States, and Vietnam). Other nations have expressed interest in joining the TPP in recent years. To quote the Bangkok Post article on this issue from June 1st:

Mr Somkid said Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha has confirmed the country’s readiness to join the TPP, and a committee chaired by Commerce Minister Apiradi Tantraporn has been set up to prepare for the move…”Thailand cannot afford to be complacent. We can take lessons from other member countries. At this point, we are ready to join the TPP. It depends on when they will accept us…”

Clearly, officials in the Thai government seem enthusiastic about the prospect of joining the TPP. However, the article goes on to note that measures are being taken to assess the ramifications of Thailand becoming a TPP member. It was also noted that Thailand would monitor the effect the TPP has had on other countries prior to making firm commitments to join the TPP. It seems likely that analysis of the experiences of Vietnam, Malaysia, and Singapore within the TPP framework will be utilized in order to better determine Thailand’s official petition to join the trade bloc and the timing thereof.

Thailand is clearly taking steps on many fronts to bring governance and regulations into line with global standards. When and how these efforts will bear fruit remains to be seen, but it is definitely an interesting time for students of Thai legal and regulatory matters.

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5th December 2015

In a recent article in the Wall Street Journal a new bill proposed by the United States Congress was discussed:

Under a new law expected to take effect in January, the State Department will block Americans with “seriously delinquent” tax debt from receiving new passports and will be allowed to rescind existing passports of people who fall into that category. The list of affected taxpayers will be compiled by the Internal Revenue Service using a threshold of $50,000 of unpaid federal taxes, including penalties and interest, which would be adjusted for inflation.

Clearly this proposed legislation could have significant ramifications for Americans living abroad. Presently, Americans abroad could only see their passports rescinded or applications for renewals denied where said applicants have outstanding criminal warrants in the United States of America or are delinquent on their child support. The proposed legislation comes after the relatively recent  implementation of FATCA (the Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act) which requires foreign banking institutions to report the financial activities of American citizens making financial transactions abroad. There have been some who disapprove of FATCA and there have been moves made in the US Federal Court to challenge the law’s constitutionality. However, at present the law remains part of the current American legal framework with respect to overseas bank accounts. As a possible consequence, in recent years there have been a growing number of individuals who have opted to renounce their United States Citizenship. It is clear that more and more people are opting to renounce their United States Citizenship. Each individual’s renunciation is likely based upon a different calculus, but it seems clear that recent changes to American tax policy have had a significant impact upon Americans living abroad.

The recent announcement that passports could be revoked as a consequence of tax delinquency seems likely to cause the number of Citizenship renunciations to increase. Although, it remains to be seen if this new policy will have a significant impact upon renunciations. Regardless of the fact that 50,000 USD seems like a substantial amount of money it will be interesting to see if the proposed legislation will allow for a form of COLA (Cost of Living Adjustment) style system whereby the amount of money in tax delinquency which would trigger a passport renunciation would increase year by year in order to track inflation. It is unlikely that such a scheme would be implemented because Foreign Bank Account Reporting (FBAR) requirements have not changed since the late 70′s. Therefore it stands to reason that the passport issuance requirements will stay frozen. Therefore, this legislation, although unlikely to have a significant impact upon Americans abroad anytime soon could have serious ramifications for Americans in 15-20 years time when 50,000 USD is not the representation of wealth that it is today.

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20th September 2015

In a recent article in the Bangkok Post it was reported that the current government in Thailand is taking measures to foster growth for small to medium sized enterprises (SMEs) in Thailand. It would appear that the present government is eager to provide encouragement for small and medium sized businesses in Thailand. Furthermore it seems as though Thai officials are attempting to position the country as a location of choice for small business start-ups within the greater framework of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC). However, of particular interest to this blogger was the mention of possible rule changes with regard to Thai corporate regulations pertaining to Thai Company registration and the shareholdings thereof. To quote the aforementioned article directly:

Mr Pongpun said the authorities were improving regulations on the incorporation of private companies to allow the incorporation of a juristic person registered by only one person.

At present, corporations (also referred to as juristic persons) in Thailand must have a minimum of three (3) shareholders in order to incorporate under Thai law. It should be noted that prior to an amendment to Thai corporate law at approximately the turn of the century it was required that all companies registered in Thailand have a minimum of 7 shareholders in order to incorporate pursuant to Thai law. Many at the time felt that the 7 shareholders requirement was too cumbersome and for that reason the statutorily required number of shareholders was reduced to 3. Since then, there have been those who have noted their belief that allowing Thai corporate structures with only one shareholder would bring Thai corporate law more in line with similar bodies of law globally. For example, in many American jurisdictions Limited Liability Companies or LLCs are only required to have one member/shareholder, while similar Limited Company (Ltd.) structures are allowed in Britain and the Commonwealth nations and many European jurisdictions allow for similar corporate structures as well.

It remains to be seen whether Thai corporate law will be amended to allow for single shareholder corporations in Thailand. It is a good sign that such structures are being considered by Thai officials especially since such structures would be especially beneficial to small business owners in Thailand. Of special note to American readers, pursuant to the provisions of the US-Thai Treaty of Amity it is possible for American Citizens to own 100% of an Amity company registered in Thailand. Should the aforementioned changes take place it could result in Americans being able to own their small business singularly without any Thai shareholders.

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12th January 2014

During the early morning hours on Monday January 13th in Bangkok protestors calling for the resignation of the current Thai government commenced their “Operation: Bangkok Shutdown”. It appears from initial reports that 7 key intersections in Bangkok have been blocked including areas near government facilities. Protest leaders have noted their intention to continue the shutdown until the end of January. Should their demands be met, the shutdown may end sooner. The administration of this blog will not comment upon the politics behind these recent developments (leaving that task to news sites and political commentators). However, it is important to note that this situation will likely cause delays in government services, especially those sought in the Bangkok Metropolitan area.

The Thai government has taken measures to deal with the inconvenience this situation may cause. Most notable to foreign nationals in Bangkok was the recent announcement that provisional immigration offices have been established to deal with visa matters for foreign nationals unable to travel to the usual immigration offices located in facilities which are likely to be blocked by the protestors. The Office of the Royal Thai Immigration Police made the following announcement:

ADDITIONAL OFFICES DURING THE DEMONSTRATION SITUATION

Due to the demonstration, please be known that Immigration Services for all foreigners are also provided at ::

1. Immigration Service Center for 3 national Legalized Labors, Major Hollywood Suksawat, 1st Floor,
Suksawat Road, Ratburana, Bangkok.
2. Immigration Service Center for 3 national Legalized Labors, Imperial World Ladprao, 5th Floor,
Ladprao Road, Wang Tong Lang, Bangkok.

This temporary service will be started from January 13rd, 2014 until the better situation. We apologize for inconvenience.

Many foreign nationals remain in the Kingdom of Thailand on long term visas such as business visas, retirement visas, and marriage visas. Those present in the country for periods longer than 90 days are required to check in with immigration officials. Therefore, the current situation could adversely impact those wishing to travel to immigration offices for their quarterly “90 day check-in”. Furthermore, foreign business owners in Bangkok are likely to have issues not only in procuring government services, but also with logistics as a result of the demonstrations.

Hopefully, the situation in Bangkok will be resolved quickly and peacefully. In the meantime, it may be necessary to schedule extra time when traveling throughout the city and foreign nationals are encouraged to stay away from protest areas. The administration of this blog will continue to post updates regarding this situation as developments evolve.

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6th December 2013

Notwithstanding the fact that demonstrations in Bangkok were briefly discontinued in order to observe His Majesty the King’s birthday, it appears that demonstrations are set to recommence as of Friday December 6th. It would appear that some anti-government demonstrators have remained in government office buildings as of the morning of the 6th as pro-government activists vow to undertake demonstrations at a later date.

The demonstrations in Bangkok have been a cause for concern especially for businesses which operate in the Thai tourism sector. However, officials in the Thai government appear willing to take measures to maintain tourism numbers in Thailand. The fact that a number of governments around the world have issued travel warnings to their citizenry has been a cause for worry amongst many in the tourism industry. It  was recently announced that notwithstanding the recent demonstrations tourism numbers in Thailand are still holding strong, but should demonstrations continue and tensions escalate there are some who worry that the effects could be detrimental. Hopefully, leaders from both factions can come to an amicable solution and avert a prolonged stalemate, only time will tell.

Meanwhile, various news outlets throughout Thailand are reporting upon recent news about Thai Immigration officials taking a firmer stance regarding the issuance of Thai retirement visas. In the past it was possible to obtain a retirement visa based upon showing a balance of eight hundred thousand Thai baht in a Thai bank account. Furthermore, a retired married couple could both use this balance when making an application for a retirement visa. With the passage of a law amending the Thai immigration rules, officials with the Thai immigration police have announced that future Thai retirement visa applicants must now show that they independently maintain an eight hundred thousand baht bank balance. This means that it is no longer possible for a foreign retired married couple to both obtain retirement visas based upon showing only 800,000 baht. In fact, such a hypothetical couple would now need to show at least 1.6 million baht in a joint Thai bank account or in 800,000 increments in two separate accounts. Officials noted that those maintaining a statutorily defined minimum pension may be eligible to receive a retirement visa provided proof of said pension could be verified by Thai immigration authorities. Those married to Thai nationals could also be eligible to receive Thai marriage visas (sometimes referred to as an O visa) which requires a lower bank balance in order to prove financial ability to support one’s spouse.

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15th October 2013

At a recent summit held to discuss relations between China and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) the Prime Minister of Thailand stressed the importance of the ASEAN-China Strategic Partnership as a component necessary to bolster mutual prosperity in both China and the ASEAN region. Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra noted that ASEAN approved of China’s efforts to improve the ASEAN-China Free Trade Area. Upgrading the free trade area would likely result in an increase in Sino-ASEAN trade.

Based upon information announced by the ASEAN Secretariat, in the year 2014 ASEAN appears poised to focus on quickly implementing targets for 2015. It also appears that ASEAN will be working towards unifying the community pillars of ASEAN, notably the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC), the ASEAN Socio-Cultural Community, as well as the ASEAN Political-Security Community. Post-2015, ASEAN may undertake initiatives to reinforce these efforts while also attempting to further engage other outside actors in the Asia Pacific and East Asia regions.

A recent joint statement from the visiting Chinese Premier and the Thai Prime Minister also noted that efforts are being made to improve relations between the Kingdom of Thailand and the Peoples’ Republic of China. The two leaders expressed their desire to see closer cooperation between their two nations in the form of investment in industry (with specific emphasis upon investment in the bio-plastics, green, and rubber industries).

Thailand and China renewed their commitment to promoting improved transportation infrastructure in the form of railway links between Thailand, Laos, and China. The two countries also discussed improved transportation channels in the form of roads, airports, and ports which could increase trade and tourism for both Thailand specifically and the region as a whole. The Chinese representatives reiterated their desire to assist in the building of a high speed railway system between Ban Phachi and Nong Khai, noting that payment for such endeavors may come, at least in part, in the form of agricultural goods.

The two countries also wish to strengthen cooperative efforts in the banking and financial spheres by promoting the use of the two nations’ currencies in matters involving Sino-Thai trade and investment. It also appears that the two countries are poised to discuss methods of improving RMB clearing services in matters pertaining to trade.

Most notably, at least for this blogger, was the announcement that China as well as Thailand are amenable to discussing, and possibly signing, a Memorandum of Understanding on exemption of visas. Apparently, a prospective Sino-Thai visa exemption scheme would allow holders of regular Thai and Chinese passports to enter each of these countries on a visa exemption stamp not unlike the current visa exemption stamps currently issued to travelers from many countries entering Thailand. The promulgation of a visa exemption scheme between China and Thailand could lead to increases in trade and tourism between the two nations.

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1st October 2013

The United States government has recently shut down due to the inability of Congress to make a deal regarding the budget and current debt ceiling level. The reverberations from this recent turn of events will likely be felt in many sectors of the United States government and by those who may have business with the US government. As a general matter, governmental functions which are deemed essential will still be available. However, those governmental activities and employees deemed non-essential will likely be discontinued and work furloughed until such time as Congress reaches an agreement. It has been 17 years since the United States government last shut down. As of the time of this writing, the Office of Management and Budget has instructed supervisors of various governmental entities to “execute plans for an orderly shutdown.”

What is the practical impact of the government’s closure upon the immigration process? It recently came to this blogger’s attention that the following has been posted on the official website of the United States Embassy in Bangkok, Thailand:

The U.S. Embassy in Bangkok and Consulate General Chiang Mai remain open to the public. As always, our priorities remain providing safety, security, and service to U.S. citizens. We are open for all consular services, including visa processing.

It could be inferred that the Embassy is attempting to dispel rumors that a shutdown will negatively impact the processing of US visa applications as well as applications for US passports, Consular Reports of Birth Abroad (CRBA), and various notarial services requested by Americans living in Thailand. Hopefully, the recently announced government shutdown will not last long and thus not cause any great problems for those seeking visas to the United States of America. However, a protracted shutdown could mean that processing of US visa applications could move at a slower pace, or, in a worst case scenario, be discontinued until such time as a budget is agreed upon. Hopefully, this will not happen and the processing of applications will continue apace.

Meanwhile, it is likely that the shutdown will not affect processing of immigration petitions at the United States Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS). As USCIS is funded by the fees paid by petitioners, it seems likely that a government shutdown will not adversely impact those seeking immigration benefits from USCIS. Again, as the United States has not seen a government shutdown in nearly two decades some of the details about the impact of the current shutdown remain somewhat speculative. Readers of this blog should take note that further information will be provided herein as it becomes available.

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