Integrity Legal

Posts Tagged ‘amnesty’

8th December 2020

There have been a number of developments regarding Thai immigration in recent weeks including the recent announcement that the Special Tourist Visa program will be expanded to include more than a limited number of countries. To quote directly from a recent article in the Bangkok Post:

The cabinet on Tuesday resolved to offer long-stay special tourist visas (STV) to visitors from every country instead of only those with low risks of the novel coronavirus.

This news comes as it appears there are again talks of creating “travel bubble” corridors on a bilateral basis between Thailand and counterpart countries. It seems under this travel bubble scheme nationals from some countries may be fast-tracked through quarantine or not required to quarantine at all so long as they remain in a restricted geographic area. As of the time of this writing, such a plan has yet to be implemented. With respect to in-country Thai Immigration matters is noteworthy that the Thai visa amnesty has been extended for those unable to leave the country. Meanwhile, the caseload volume of Thai visas being consular processed appears to be increasing as visa categories such as the Thai retirement visa, business visa, and tourist visa are, depending upon the jurisdiction, opening up. At the same time, there is some discussion surrounding the notion of implementing a contact tracing app for those traveling to Thailand as tourists. It remains to be seen whether this will apply to non-immigrants such as retirees and businesspersons. A notable requirement now associated with Thai visa processing which has become ubiquitous, but was never required in the past is insurance. Insurance coverage for COVID-19 is required for all visa categories including the Single Entry Tourist Visa (or SETV). Concurrently, some of those who were able to avoid needing insurance due to usage of an O retirement visa (as opposed to an O-A retirement visa) are finding that, if abroad, they are being compelled to obtain insurance in order to obtain a Certificate of Entry (COE) notwithstanding the fact that such coverage would not be required if applying for or extending status in Thailand.

With respect to American immigration, there has been a great deal of discussion regarding whether the transition from a Trump administration to an administration of the presumptive President-Elect Joe Biden will change the overall process and paradigm of the American immigration apparatus. In the long run, it is likely that a change of administration would dramatically improve processing conditions for American visas, including K-1 visas and immigrant visas which seem to be languishing at the National Visa Center and at US Embassies and Consulates abroad. That stated, the transition, although likely, is not yet a foregone conclusion as of the time of this writing. Meanwhile, it should be noted that bureaucracies such as the USCIS, NVC, and Department of State do not “stop on a dime” it takes time to reorganize and implement new policy. Therefore, it is likely that substantial changes will not be seen until deep into 2021.

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12th September 2020

The overall immigration and visa environment in both the USA and Thailand are in an extreme state of flux. In recent months the response by the US Embassy in Bangkok to the COVID-19 pandemic has been to shutdown the Immigrant and Non-Immigrant Visa Units and preclude interviews. However, an announcement in recent weeks suggests that this shutdown is coming to an end. Quoting directly from the US Travel Docs website:

Beginning October 1, 2020, U.S. Embassy Bangkok and U.S. Consulate General Chiang Mai will resume routine nonimmigrant visa services for all visa categories.  The number of visa interviews per day will be limited to ensure social distancing. Starting from September 9, 2020, you can renew your visa by mail, provided you meet all the qualifications listed on https://www.ustraveldocs.com/th/th-niv-visarenew.asp.  Please read all the information before submitting your application by mail. Applicants for H1B, H2B, L1, and certain J categories and their dependents covered by Presidential Proclamation 10052 should request an appointment only if you have reason to believe you may qualify for one of the exceptions listed in the Proclamation here.  For more information on exceptions, click here. U.S. Embassy Bangkok has also resumed processing most immigrant visa categories and is currently addressing its backlog of cases, namely those applicants whose interview appointment was canceled because of the COVID-19 pandemic.  The Immigrant Visa unit will be in direct contact with applicants currently eligible to reschedule their interview appointment.

Although the actual easing of current restrictions remains to be seen, many waiting for a K-3, CR-1, IR-1, or K-1 visa interview are anxious to see the beginning of October and, along with it, the resumption of visa processing.

Meanwhile, the current posture of the Thai Immigration system remains relatively inert compared to normal circumstances as most all travel to Thailand is heavily restricted. That stated, there are some non-immigrant visa categories which are approved for usage to enter Thailand. Most notable among the categories are the Thai Business Visa (with work permit or work authorization [either WP3 or WP10 depending upon circumstances) and the Thai O visa for those foreign nationals who have a Thai spouse, children or parents. Presently, those with a Thai retirement visa will not be able to gain access to Thailand utilizing that travel document as their sole and exclusive means of lawful admission. Based upon some accounts, it appears likely that this restriction may remain until the beginning of 2021.

Thai officials have been attempting to balance health and safety concerns against the strong desire to readmit tourists to Thailand. A multitude of initiatives have been discussed in recent weeks including further discussion of a “travel bubble” initiative as well as discussion of the “safe and sealed” program. More recently, the “Phuket Model” is being discussed in earnest as a means of admitting foreign tourists while simultaneously taking necessary precautions to assuage those concerned about public health. It seems the roll out of the “Phuket Model” is not a foregone conclusion and it now seems likely that, once implemented, it will be a plan pertaining to all of Thailand rather than specifically targeting Phuket. However, implementation remains to be seen and therefore comment as to the details associated therewith would be an exercise in conjecture at this time. Concurrently, there also appear to be discussions regarding “Green Lanes” to allow business travelers access to Thailand.

Within Thailand, issues surrounding Thai immigration are becoming increasingly urgent as the Thai visa amnesty (sometimes referred to as the automatic Thai visa extension) is coming to an end on September 26th. Thai Immigration officials have made a number of statements regarding the end of the amnesty and noted that waiting until too close to the deadline may prove problematic for prospective visa applicants. Some officials have even gone so far as to hint at possible future announcements regarding Thai immigration rules in coming days. At the same time, it appears an ad hoc system is being put in place to allow temporary extensions for those who can produce an Embassy letter requesting such accommodation. That stated, statements from both he American and British Missions to Thailand would suggest that compelling reasons must be shown in order to ultimately have one’s Thai visa status maintained on a temporary basis pursuant to this prospective scheme. Those wishing to maintain long term lawful status past the end of the amnesty are well advised to either obtain an extension of status or a conversion into longer term immigration status in Thailand BEFORE the September 26 deadline.

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