Integrity Legal

Posts Tagged ‘covid19’

2nd June 2020

While certain aspects of the COVID-19 situation seem to be evolving in a positive manner, there remain many travel restrictions in Thailand and the USA.

It appears that notwithstanding the overall restriction of foreign travel into Thailand, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs has announced that accommodation for foreign nationals entering Thailand may be possible, provided they have a Thai Work Permit. However, it should be noted that a work permit (and presumably Business Visa or O Visa) is not the exclusive requirement to gain entry to the Kingdom. It appears that “fit-to-fly” documents must be obtained by travelers before departing for Thailand. Concurrently, it also appears that a Thai Entry Certificate issued by the Ministry of foreign Affairs in Bangkok will also be necessary, in addition to standard travel documents. These announcements are rather recent and full implementation of these policies remains to be seen.

Meanwhile, there is a great deal of interest regarding the possibility that the US Embassy in Thailand and the surrounding countries may reopen for visa interviews. However, as of the time of this writing it appears that the Embassies in Southeast Asia are unlikely to process out cases for K-1 visas, CR-1 visas, K-3 visas, or IR-1 visas any time soon. The following statement is noted on the US Travel Docs website for Thailand:

As of March 19, 2020, the United States Embassy and Consulate in Thailand are cancelling routine non-immigrant visa appointments. From March 24, the United States Embassy and Consulate is not accepting applications through Interview Waiver for any visa categories. We will resume routine visa services as soon as possible but are unable to provide a specific date at this time.

The following is noted on the same website for Cambodia:

In response to significant worldwide challenges related to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Department of State has temporarily suspended routine visa services at all U.S. Embassies and Consulates. Embassies and consulates have canceled all routine immigrant and nonimmigrant visa appointments as of March 20, 2020

Finally, a similar message is noted for Laos:

As of March 20, the United States Embassy in Vientiane, Laos is suspending routine immigrant and nonimmigrant visa appointments.  We will resume routine visa services as soon as possible but are unable to provide a specific date at this time.

Clearly, it seems unlikely that visa applications, and the interviews associated therewith, are unlikely to occur in any of the above posts for the foreseeable future. The overall situation regarding entry to the USA and Thailand remains rather fluid, we will keep updating this blog as the situation progresses.

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2nd May 2020

The past 6 weeks have been very eventful in terms of the response to the COVID-19 (or Coronavirus) lock down in Thailand. This crisis has also had a significant impact upon the American visa process. By way of an update, the Thai government has recently announced an easing of restrictions associated with the lock down of business and social interaction in Thailand. It now appears that as of May 3rd, small eateries, parks, hair salons, stores selling certain retail as well as electronic goods, and pet shops will be allowed to reopen. Thai government officials have announced that further phased reopening measures will be implemented in coming weeks should circumstances permit. Concurrently, it was initially announced that the ban on the sale of alcohol in Thailand would be extended throughout the month of May. There was some speculation that a “grace period” would be permitted on Mat 1st and 2nd to allow the public time to “stock up” on alcohol products in anticipation of further restrictions over the forthcoming month.

Shortly after these predictions and the announcement that the ban on alcohol sales would continue, it was announced that retail alcohol sales could recommence beginning May 3rd. Further, it appears that those eateries which maintain an alcohol license and usually sell alcohol in the course of their day-to-day business will be permitted to sell alcohol on a “take-away” basis. Therefore, for the forthcoming days small restaurants and other venues will be reopened to the public and life in Thailand appears to be normalizing somewhat. Notwithstanding these measures, restrictions on pubs and entertainment establishments remain.

While all of this is unfolding in Thailand, in the USA the US immigration system appears to be preparing for further delays associated with the processing of visa cases. The following announcement from USCIS recently came to this blogger’s attention:

On March 18, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services temporarily suspended routine in-person services to help slow the spread of coronavirus (COVID-19). USCIS plans to begin reopening our offices on or after June 4, unless the public closures are extended further.

In prior announcements it had been noted that May 4th would be the presumptive date of reopening. It now appears that there will be at least another month delay for in-person services with USCIS. At the same time, the new Immigration Ban remains in effect although it is unlikely to have any impact upon those seeking a K-3 visa, CR-1 visa, IR-1 visa, or K-1 visa from Thailand as the ban specifically excludes spouse visas and only pertains to immigrant visas. Therefore, as a fiance visa is not, by definition, an immigrant visa, the provisions this new ban do not apply to fiances of American citizens. However, notwithstanding the fact that the immigration ban does no directly impact most family based visas from Thailand it is effectively a moot point for the immediately foreseeable future due to the fact that the Immigrant Visa Unit and the Non-Immigrant Visa Unit at the US Embassy in Bangkok are not currently holding visa interviews nor are the issuance immigrant and non-immigrant visa as they remain closed due to the coronavirus. We, in this office, are currently looking at the USCIS presumed reopening date as the best indication of when it seems prudent to presume that the Embassy will reopen for interviews. That stated, the ultimate date of reopening remains to be seen, but we will try to keep you up to date on this blog.

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18th April 2020

Those following this blog are likely well aware that that the Coronavirus (or COVID-19) is having a dramatic impact upon logistical issues around the world. In Thailand, the Immigration Bureau has promulgated regulations to allow certain tourists stranded in Thailand to automatically extend Thai visa status. Meanwhile, while the American Embassy in Bangkok has been assiduous in providing up to date information regarding the ongoing ramifications of the crisis with respect to travel arrangements to the USA, a recent segment of a Health Alert from the Embassy drew this blogger’s attention. To quote directly from the Embassy’s website:

When booking a flight out of Thailand we urge you to do so at the earliest opportunity, ideally within the next several days.  If you have booked a flight after this time period, you should consider rebooking for an earlier date or make plans to stay in Thailand indefinitely. [Emphasis Added]

Although readers were likely aware that COVID-19 is causing consternation in booking travel arrangements, this particular warning definitely made this reader acutely cognizant of the possible long term ramifications of failing to make timely travel arrangements back to the USA. On the one hand the term “indefinitely” could be viewed simply as “unspecified period” or “foreseeable future,” but, on the other hand, it certainly has a somewhat ominous undertone. Therefore, those with an intention to return to the USA sooner rather than later are well advised to make all necessary arrangements as soon as possible in order to forestall a situation wherein one’s return to the USA is delayed for a substantially prolonged period of time. Concurrently, those wishing to remain in Thailand are strongly advised to fully ascertain the posture of their visa status as falling into overstay could result in the precarious predicament of being stuck in Thailand out of visa status while simultaneously being unable to return to the USA. This could lead to a situation wherein one finds themselves arrested and/or placed in the Thai Immigration Detention Center. Under such circumstances detention could prove to be a prolonged ordeal as  arranging an expedited deportation could prove difficult in light of the fact that international flights have been severely truncated and the latitude of travel for the deportee may be restricted as other countries may not wish to accept such an arrival especially if onward travel to the USA cannot be readily arranged.

Although we will be updating this blog as the situation evolves, the administration of this platform strongly urges readers to seriously ponder their situation as failure to make a decision in a timely manner could have serious consequences in the future.

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4th April 2020

It recently came to this blogger’s attention that the Thai government has halted all incoming flights from overseas to Thailand. To quote directly from a recent article in Thai PBS World:

“[T]he prime minister wants to see stringent measures imposed on overseas arrivals for the period between April 2-15.  The Foreign Ministry has been tasked to find out ways to implement the directive from the prime minister.”

Further, in another article from The Nation, the following was noted:

“Taweesin Visanuyothin, spokesman for the Centre for Covid-19 Situation Administration, said Prime Minister Prayut Chan-ocha has told the Foreign Ministry to issue a new directive prohibiting new arrivals.”For the immediately foreseeable future, it appears that it will not be possible for anyone to enter Thailand by air.

Clearly, the Thai government has deemed the COVID-19 issues of a seriousness that it warrants across the board restriction of incoming flights. That stated, there appears to be a end date for these restrictions on the horizon. In a further article from the Bangkok Post:

“All passenger flights have been banned from landing in the country to curb the outbreak of the new coronavirus, the aviation agency said on Friday. The ban came into effect on Saturday morning and will run until the end of Monday, the Civil Aviation Authority of Thailand said in an order published late on Friday.”

Whether the government decides to extend this restriction on in-bound flights due to Coronavirus concerns remains to be seen. However, it seems logical to infer that if the restriction is lifted and in-bound flights are allowed to come to Thailand, the previously enacted restrictions on foreigners traveling to Thailand is likely to remain in effect over the medium term. To quote directly from the aforementioned Civil Aviation authority of Thailand:

With reference to the declaration of state of emergency in Thailand on 25 March 2020, the Civil Aviation Authority of Thailand hereby issues travel advisory to passengers planning to enter Thailand as follows:

1. Passengers or persons shall be permitted to enter, Transit or Transfer Thailand through international airport only if they fall under one of the following categories:

(a) Being in the situation or a person exempted by the Prime Minister or Permanent Secretary of Ministry of Foreign Affairs, under certain conditions and prescribed time period

(b) Carriers of necessary cargoes, but required prompt exit after the mission is completed

(c) Pilot-in-command, and crew members of the flight entering Thailand with clear schedule to depart

(d) Persons on diplomatic or consular mission, or under International Organizations, representatives of the government performing their duties in Thailand or other persons or international agencies that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs gives permission, and their families. In this case, certificate of entry to the Kingdom issued by Ministry of Foreign Affairs is required.

(e) Non-Thai nationals with work permit or who have been granted permission from Thai government agencies to work in Thailand (Smart Visa only)

(f) Thai nationals with certificate of entry to the Kingdom issued by Royal Thai Embassy or Royal Thai Consulate in their country of residence certifying that they are Thais returning to Thailand, and a Fit to Fly Health Certificate.
2. The persons in (d) (e) and (f) must have Fit to Fly Health Certificate issued no more than 72 hours before traveling.
3. Passengers or persons permitted to enter Thailand shall strictly comply with disease prevention measures imposed by the government.
4. The immigration officers have the power to deny the entry of Non-Thai nationals who have been tested positive for COVID- 19, or under the suspicion of being infected or who refuse to undergo such test.
5. All previous Notifications of CAAT become ineffective.

With limited exception, the vast majority of foreigners are not going to be permitted to enter Thailand in the upcoming weeks. The vast majority of those who are permitted to enter the Kingdom are likely to be Thai Work Permit holders. Bearing that in mind, it is notable that foreign nationals in Thailand maintaining work permit as well as Thai business visa status are likely to find unforeseen issues in renewing their work permits in coming months. This will likely be due to the unintended consequences of all of the lay-offs, furloughs, terminations, and voluntary reductions of work hours for Thai employees working in the Thai business sector.

In order to maintain a Thai work permit and business visa it is required that a Thai company maintain a 4-to-1 ratio of Thai employees to foreign employees. For those foreigners using a Thai marriage visa as a platform for maintaining lawful status in Thailand as well as employment authorization the ratio of Thai employees to foreign employees is 2:1. With this in mind, the small business sector of Thailand is likely to see a significant contraction of its workforce in the second and third quarter of 2020. As Thai employees are furloughed, terminated, or resign (sometimes in order to be eligible for newly created Thai unemployment benefits) it is likely that this will have a direct impact upon the Thai/Foreign employee ratio. If the ratio of Thai to Foreign employees is not maintained within a Thai business organization, then an application for a Thai business visa extension or Thai work permit renewal may prove impossible. Therefore, those businesses, small and large, employing foreigners in Thailand should keep a sharp eye on their labor force if they wish to maintain their foreign employees’ lawful status. This can be an especially acute issue for self-employed foreign nationals in Thailand who are using their Thai limited company as a platform to maintain their status. Those in the precarious position are strongly encouraged to seek the advice and counsel of legal professionals experiences in Thai corporate compliance, accounting, staffing, immigration, and labor issues

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19th March 2020

It now appears that all visa services provided to foreign nationals at American Embassies and Consulates abroad have been suspended. In a recent article from Reuters, the following was reported:

The United States is suspending all routine visa services as of Wednesday in most countries worldwide due to the coronavirus outbreak, a spokeswoman for the State Department said, an unprecedented move that will potentially impact hundreds of thousands of people…The State Department spokeswoman said U.S. missions abroad will continue to provide emergency visa services “as resources allow,” and that the services to U.S. citizens will remain available.

Concurrently, the following message was issued by the US Embassy in Thailand:

Information for Immigrant Visa applicants regarding novel coronavirus: As of March 19, 2020, the United States Embassy and Consulate in Thailand are cancelling Immigrant Visa appointments until further notice.  We will resume routine Immigrant Visa services as soon as possible but are unable to provide a specific date at this time.  Once we resume Immigrant Visa operations, we will contact you with a new appointment date. Applicants who had their Immigrant Visa interviews cancelled due to the cessation of operations will be given first priority for rescheduling.

Meanwhile, it now appears that all intending entrants to Thailand will be required to present a medical certificate prior to boarding a plane for Thailand. To quote directly from a recent article in the Bangkok Post:

The Civil Aviation Authority of Thailand now requires all air passengers, Thai and foreign, to show Covid-19-free health certificates and Covid-19 insurance before boarding their flights to Thailand…Airlines must require passengers to present health certificates issued no more than 72 hours before the  flight departs. The certificates must guarantee that the passengers are free of Covid-19, regardles where they board. Airlines must also require that passengers have insurance covering Covid-19 treatment in Thailand, up to at least US$100,000.

We will keep this blog updated as the situation evolves.

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14th March 2020

We have been trying to keep up on the news regarding Coronavirus (also know as COVID-19) in #Thailand. In prior posts on this blog we noted that a number of countries have had their visa on arrival or 30 day stamp privileges suspended. It now appears that Americans coming to Thailand will need to deal with new protocols upon entry. To quote directly from a recent Health Alert from the US Embassy:

There is an ongoing outbreak of Coronavirus (COVID-19) first identified in Wuhan, China.  The global public health threat posed by COVID-19 is high, with more than 145,000 reported cases worldwide. The government of the Kingdom of Thailand has implemented enhanced screening and quarantine measures to reduce the spread of COVID-19.  On March 13, 2020, the Kingdom of Thailand’s Ministry of Public Health added the United States to its list of countries with ongoing local transmission. Travelers entering the Kingdom of Thailand who have been in the United States within the prior 14 days are subject to self-monitoring and reporting requirements.  There are no mandatory quarantine requirements in effect at this time for travelers arriving from the United States who do not display signs of infection.  Travelers should be prepared for travel restrictions to be put into effect with little or no advance notice.  Visit the website of Ministry of Public Health for additional information on these new measures.

We urge readers of this blog to click on the link above to read the complete announcement. Clearly, Thai officials are taking increasingly stringent precautions as the coronavirus pandemic continues to accelerate. It appears officials from the American Embassy will be assisting Americans where possible in the coming days. We will keep readers updated on this blog as the situation evolves.

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12th March 2020

It now appears that the previously discussed restrictions of visa exemption and visa on arrival privileges will be implemented. To quote a recent article from The Nation:

(Update) Beginning on Friday (March 13), visitors to Thailand from 18 countries will no longer be eligible for visas on arrival, Interior Minister Anupong Paochinda announced on Thursday…Anupong said visitors must apply for visas in their home countries and bring a certificate of sound health…Visitors from hard-hit locales Italy, South Korea and Hong Kong also become ineligible for visa-free entry, he said. The 18 countries are Bulgaria, Bhutan, Cyprus, Ethiopia, Fiji, Georgia, India, Kazakhstan, Malta, Mexico, Nauru, Papua New Guinea, Romania, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Uzbekistan, Vanuatu and “China (including Taiwan)”…Department of Consular Affairs’ director-general Chatree Atchananant said earlier today that there would be no official announcement of the measure until the Cabinet considers it on March 17, before Anupong came out later to confirm that the measure would be implemented tomorrow (March 13).

As evidenced from the back-and-forth noted above, the coronavirus (or COVID-19) pandemic is causing a great deal of confusion at a policy level as officials seem hard pressed to come to a coherent solution which will protect the uninfected while simultaneously having the least detrimental impact upon foreign tourism and the overall Thai economy.

As this situation continues we will update this blog accordingly.

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12th March 2020

In our prior posting on this blog the issue of coronavirus and the impact upon US and Thai Immigration was discussed. At the time of that posting it appeared that a number of foreign nationals were going to see their visa exemption and/or visa on arrival privileges suspended in the wake of COVID-19 being declared a pandemic by the World Health Organization. It now appears this this policy is being put on hold. To quote directly from the Star:

The government has put on hold its plan to suspend visa on arrival (VoA) for 18 countries and visa-free entry from high-risk areas (South Korea, Hong Kong and Italy) after an urgent meeting on Thursday (March 12). The Department of Consular Affairs director-general, Chatree Atchananant, said that the matter will be discussed further at a Cabinet meeting on March 17.

Exactly if or when this policy will be enforced, if ever, remains to be seen. It is clear that governments around the world are having difficulty in crafting coherent policy in response to the spread of COVID-19. WE will keep this blog as up to date as possible as the situation evolves.

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11th March 2020

The Coronavirus, also referred to as COVID-19, has been a major issue in recent days and it appears to be having a substantial impact upon immigration policy in the United States of America and the Kingdom of Thailand. In a recent article from the Bangkok Post, it was noted that visa exemption stamps and visa on arrival privileges are being suspended for citizens of certain countries, quoting directly from a recent article:

Thailand on Wednesday cancelled the grant of visa on arrival for 18 countries and visa exemption for three others…The 18 places are: Bulgaria, Bhutan, China (including Taiwan), Cyprus, Ethiopia, Fiji, Georgia, India, Kazakhstan, Malta, Mexico, Nauru, Papua New Guinea, Romania, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Uzbekistan, and Vanuatu. Visa exemption will be cancelled for South Korea, Italy and Hong Kong…

It also appears that Thai Embassy and Consulate officials will begin requiring medical certificates by visa applicants, to quote directly from a recent article in Reuters:

Chatree Atchananant, director-general of the foreign ministry’s Consular Affairs Department, said visa applicants will need to present medical certificates and insurance as part of the screening at Thai embassies.

Meanwhile, some days ago officials in the USA had previously announced that US visa issuance and travel would be greatly curtailed by those either coming from China or other areas impacted by the virus. More recently, it has been announced that all travel from Europe to the United States will be suspended. To quote directly from a recent article from Bloomberg:

President Donald Trump said he will suspend all travel from Europe to the U.S. for the next 30 days, the most far-reaching measure yet in the administration’s efforts to combat the spread of coronavirus…The World Health Organization earlier Wednesday declared the outbreak is now a pandemic and urged governments to step up containment efforts as the number of worldwide cases topped 123,000 and deaths exceeded 4,500.

As the coronavirus outbreak continues the travel industries of various countries are reeling. In Thailand, the tourism industry has taken a major hit. Concurrently, the immigration systems of both the USA and Thailand are dealing with the issue in different ways. Although the laws governing Thai visa and American visa issuance have not substantively changed, Thai and American immigration and customs officials have broad plenary and discretionary authority to deal with public health and safety matters as they see fit. Exactly how this situation will continue to evolve remains to be seen, but we will continue posting information and analysis on the legal and immigration ramifications of this pandemic.

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