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Posts Tagged ‘Thai Embassy’

30th April 2022

It has recently come to this blogger’s attention that the Thailand Pass, a system not unlike the US’s Electronic System for Travel Authorization (also known as ESTA), will remain in place for at least the immediately foreseeable future. To quote directly from Thai PBS World:

The Centre for COVID-19 Situation Administration (CCSA) will not scrap the “Thailand Pass” scheme, as has been widely anticipated, but will shorten the registration process for overseas tourists applying to enter Thailand as the “Test and Go” one-night quarantine scheme for the fully vaccinated is scheduled to come to an end on April 30, CCSA assistant spokesperson Sumanee Wacharasint said today (Thursday). Dr. Sumanee added, however, that when COVID-19 situation in the country steadily improves, the CCSA may consider further easing of restrictions. She explained that there are currently four steps in the “Thailand Pass” application process, namely checking of vaccination certification, checking of the evidence of advanced hotel bookings, checking of proof of insurance coverage while in Thailand, and proof of booking for RT-PCR testing…Meanwhile, Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha will personally oversee preparations by all agencies to cope with overseas arrivals, once the “Test and Go” scheme ends on April 30, according to Traisulee Traisoranakul, deputy spokesperson for Government House today (Thursday).

The Thai Pass has proven to be an obstacle to seeing tourism fully recover in Thailand as many prospective tourists do not wish to undertake the process of getting a Thailand Pass issued. That stated, there is reason to be hopeful for the return of tourists to Thailand as a substantial amount of obstacles have been removed for both vaccinated and unvaccinated travelers wishing to gain admission to Thailand. Most notably, either of the aforementioned groups of travelers, with correct documentation, can now avoid the need to quarantine in a Thai hotel. This requirement, sometimes referred to as the Test and Go program, has been removed.

Notwithstanding recent announcements from the Biden administration regarding the desire to decease the Immigration case processing backlog, US visa cases are still processing in a relatively slower manner than they were prior to the pandemic. This seems to be especially true in cases where applicants are seeking immigrant spouse visas, such as the CR-1 visa and the IR-1 visa, for the USA. The National Visa Center seems to be a major sticking point in terms of overall processing time. For this reason, some prospective immigrants are opting to use the K-1 visa rather than an immigrant spouse visa in order to gain admission to the USA more quickly. Hopefully the situation will improve over the course of the rest of the year and we will update this blog accordingly.

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30th March 2022

Thai Immigration rules have been easing substantially in recent weeks. However, the Thailand Pass remains a rather obtuse obstacle for many would-be travelers to Thailand. It appears that is vexing issue may soon end. To quote directly from Thai PBS World:

The Ministry of Tourism and Sports will propose to the Centre for COVID-19 Situation Administration (CCSA) that the “Thailand Pass” requirement for all international arrivals be revoked and that the RT-PCR COVID-19 tests required upon arrival be replaced with the quicker Rapid Antigen Tests. According to Tourism and Sports Minister Phiphat Ratchakitprakarn, the replacement of the RT-PCR test on arrival, tentatively set to start on May 1st, with antigen tests conducted by formal medical facilities, would only be possible if COVID-19 infections and deaths during and after the long Songkran long holiday in April remain stable, at between 50,000 and 60,000 cases a day, including those who have only tested positive using antigen tests and daily fatalities do not exceed 100.

Although it remains to be seen if the Thailand Pass will be terminated, as of the time of this writing an end to the PCR test prior to departure for Thailand appears to be on the cards. Should this come to pass, it would substantially improve the present protocols associated with entry to Thailand. It is hoped that this will spur demand in the Thai tourism sector. Meanwhile, there appears to be some really good news with respect to US visa processing. To quote directly from the USCIS website:

Today, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services is announcing a trio of efforts to increase efficiency and reduce burdens to the overall legal immigration system. USCIS will set new agency-wide backlog reduction goals, expand premium processing to additional form types, and work to improve timely access to employment authorization documents. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic and resource constraints resulting from the prior administration, USCIS inherited a significant number of pending cases and increased processing times. Through today’s actions by the Biden administration, USCIS is acting to reduce these caseloads and processing times, while also ensuring that fair and efficient services are available to applicants and petitioners…To reduce the agency’s pending caseload, USCIS is establishing new internal cycle time goals this month. These goals are internal metrics that guide the backlog reduction efforts of the USCIS workforce and affect how long it takes the agency to process cases. As cycle times improve, processing times will follow, and applicants and petitioners will receive decisions on their cases more quickly. USCIS will increase capacity, improve technology, and expand staffing to achieve these new goals by the end of FY 2023. The agency’s publicly posted processing times show the average amount of time it took USCIS to process a particular form – from when the agency received the application until a decision was made on the case. Internally, USCIS monitors the number of pending cases in the agency’s workload through a metric called “cycle times.” A cycle time measures how many months’ worth of pending cases for a particular form are awaiting a decision. As an internal management metric, cycle times are generally comparable to the agency’s publicly posted median processing times. Cycle times are what the operational divisions of USCIS use to gauge how much progress the agency is, or is not, making on reducing our backlog and overall case processing times.

Although it is highly unlikely that this will have an immediate impact upon overall processing times, especially for K-1 visas for fiances and K-3 visas for spouses (not to be confused with IR-1 or CR-1 visas), it is likely that this will reverse a troubling overall trend in the American immigration apparatus and hopefully we will begin to see more normalized processing times by the end of 2022.

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26th February 2022

In what can only be described as good news for the tourism industry in Thailand, it appears the re-introduced “Test and Go” scheme is about to be less cumbersome. To quote directly from a recent article in the Bangkok Post:

The government will further relax entry rules for foreign visitors starting next month, bowing to demand from the local tourism industry to lower costs as more countries ease border controls to lure holidaymakers. Vaccinated arrivals to Thailand will not be required to undergo a mandatory polymerase chain reaction test on the fifth day of the arrival starting March 1. Instead, they can do a self-antigen test, scrapping the requirement to have a confirmed hotel reservation for the test. The Centre for Covid-19 Situation Administration (CCSA), the main virus task force chaired by Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha, also lowered the minimum medical insurance coverage for visitors to no less than $20,000 from $50,000.

The 5 day test requirement proved to be a major sticking point for many prospective travelers especially as it created a rather expensive accommodation requirement. It is also noteworthy that insurance requirements have been eased as well. Insurance requirements have proven to be a point of concerns for many would-be tourists to Thailand. It is also a concern for many retirees in Thailand. This is especially the case as new regulations are set to come online in October which would require those with an O-A retirement visa to obtain 100,000 USD coverage for health insurance. For those unable to obtain such coverage, it may be possible to utilize new rules allowing for “self-insurance“. That stated, the requirements would mean a substantially higher burden on some prospective retired expats. It is worth nothing that these requirements do not appear to apply to those holding an O retirement visa, but only the O-A subcategory.

The Thailand Elite Visa will now have the option for issuance of a Thai work permit, but with a price tag of 32 million Baht, and the fact that the Elite visa does not confer Thai permanent residence, it seems unlikely that a large number for foreign nationals will avail themselves of the privilege.

Meanwhile, in an American immigration context, backlog appears to be the greatest overall concern. Quoting directly from a recent article from the Guardian:

America’s immigration courts are struggling to function at the most basic level, with courts that are already woefully understaffed and judges often undertrained now overwhelmed by a growing backlog of more than 1.6m cases, industry leaders have warned. The system is so damaged that judges, scholars and attorneys all share concerns about whether immigrants due in court will even receive notice before their hearings so they know to show up and aren’t ordered deported in absentia – an urgent concern made worse by volatile immigration policies at the US-Mexico border.

Many similar issues are occurring in the Department of Homeland Security’s U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS) as backlogs and slow processing plague cases of those seeking a K-1 fiance visa or marriage visas such as the K-3 visa or the immigrant spouse visa categories such as the CR-1 or IR-1 visa. There is legitimate concern that these backlog issues are straining the underlying relationships in these cases to the point where they are sometimes destroyed. Hopefully these issues will be rectified in the foreseeable future.

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19th January 2022

It appears that officials in Thailand may be planning to resume the “Test and Go” initiative in an effort to spur tourism to Thailand. To quote directly from the Bangkok Post:

The expected resumption of the Test & Go tourism scheme in February should allow the country to attract at least 8 million tourists this year, says the Tourism and Sports Ministry. Tourism and Sports Minister Phiphat Ratchakitprakarn said his ministry plans to push for the resumption of the quarantine-free Test & Go scheme next month as this proposal is scheduled for discussion at the Centre for Covid-19 Situation Administration meeting on Jan 20….The resumption of Test & Go in February still allows enough time to reach 8 million arrivals this year, he said.

Clearly, tourism numbers have suffered since the suspension of the “test and go” program and although actual resumption of the protocol remains to be seen, it can be surmised from numbers prior to the program’s suspension that the reopening of the country would bring in much needed revenue to Thailand’s ailing tourism industry. Meanwhile, on a related note, it appears Immigration authorities in Thailand are seeking to create a new set of visas to lure “high net worth” foreign nationals to the Kingdom. To quote again from the Bangkok Post:

The cabinet on Tuesday approved visa changes intended to attract affluent foreigners for lengthy stays, targeting the rich, retirees, remote workers and skilled professionals…Deputy government spokeswoman Rachada Dhnadirek said the new regulations were in two draft ministerial announcements submitted by the Interior Ministry and the Labour Ministry…They target foreigners with enormous wealth, wealthy pensioners, foreigners who want to work remotely from Thailand, and highly skilled professionals. The Interior Ministry proposals provide for long-term residence (LTR) visas, each for up to four family members including children up to 20 years old. The Board of Investment will set the qualifications of the applicants.

It should be noted that the proposed visa scheme remains approved only in principle as the regulatory structure has yet to be fully “ironed out.” However, there are some clues as to what this visa regime may ultimately look like. For example, the integral participation of the Board of Investment in Thailand leads this blogger to believe that the proposed visa scheme will ultimately look very similar to the current SMART visa program which has been operational in Thailand for a bit less than 5 years as of the time of this writing. Although the final rules regarding this proposal have yet to be promulgated so the final criteria for visa approval remain to be seen.

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21st December 2021

There was discussion that the “test and go” scheme, which effectively eliminated quarantine for foreign travelers, would be suspended and then the discussion became moot as authorities in Thailand announced that the scheme would end effective immediately. To quote directly from the Thai Enquirer website:

The Thai government said on Tuesday that it will scrap the recently implemented Test and Go Plan as Omicron variant cases spike worldwide. The Test and Go Plan, which allowed foreign arrivals to skip quarantine, and the Thailand Pass system will be suspended and reevaluated again on January 4.

This raises the question: what about those who already booked their travel plans and were expecting to use the “test and go” system? Well, apparently, they will be allowed to enter so long as they had already booked their travel, quoting further:

All travelers that previously applied for and received the Thailand Pass can still enter the kingdom until January 10 but must report two more PCR negative tests.

Meanwhile, it seems the Thailand Pass system may also be suspended. To quote directly from the ASEAN Now website:

Thailand has suspended its ‘Thailand Pass’ and ‘Test & Go’ schemes due to fears over the Omicron variant of COVID-19. Thailand’s Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-O-Cha has ordered the immediate suspension of new registrations for Thailand Pass and at the same reinstated mandatory quarantine effective immediately. The PM announced on Tuesday afternoon that Test & Go will be put on hold until at least January 4, 2022. The so-called ‘Sandbox’ programs will also be suspended. “After Dec. 21, there will be no new registrations for ‘Test and Go’, only quarantine or Phuket sandbox,” said deputy government spokeswoman Rachada Dhanadirek.

With a “stroke of the pen” the travel situation has reverted back to the status it was at in mid-summer of 2021. This raises the question: will certificates of entry once again be the order of the day when traveling to Thailand? It would appear so, although the situation remains in flux and could change rather rapidly as past events have shown.

Concurrently, many of those wishing to obtain visas to the USA are finding that backlogs are common throughout the Immigration process. Presently, there are very few interview being scheduled at the US Embassy in Bangkok, citing concerns about the pandemic. Furthermore, American tourist visa applications are not processing as quickly as they did in the past due to interviews being scheduled nearly a year out. Even cases that have seen interview are seeing issues as Administrative Processing is delaying a number of cases, sometimes for a prolonged period of time.

Hopefully, the overall situation will improve and we will update this blog as the situation evolves.

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22nd November 2021

As Thailand’s recent reopening continues unabated the Thailand Pass appears to pose issues for some wishing to travel to Thailand. The following was quoted from the official website of the Bangkok Post:

Some hotels are deceiving visitors from overseas, taking room reservations but omitting transport from the airport and Covid-testing, which means they must buy a new package on arrival or be rejected. Apisamai Srirangson, a spokeswoman for the Centre for Covid-19 Situation Administration, said on Monday that some hotels misled visitors and booked them only for the room. The charge did not include a limousine service from the airport to the hotel or the RT-PCR Covid-19 test on arrival, even though both were required as conditions of entry on a Thailand Pass…Thailand Pass replaced the certificate of entry (CoE) on Nov 1 when the kingdom reopened to visitors. It requires visitors to have been fully vaccinated, have a clean RT-PCR test within 72 hours before boarding their flight and have US$50,000 health insurance.

Clearly, not all of the “bugs” have been worked out of the system as some of these issues may have been due to the vast number of technical issues associated with the increased logistics associated with traveling to Thailand under current conditions.

Meanwhile, there are rumors circulating that Thailand may soon see a reopening of the nightlife venues as the country moves forward. Prior announcements have stated that Thailand’s nightlife sector (bars, pubs, and entertainment zones) will not reopen until mid-January at the earliest, but there is now talk among some government officials that things may reopen sooner than that. However, an official announcement remains to be seen.

Recent policy changes with respect to retirement visas (and indirectly, reentry permits) may be the cause of consternation among the expat retiree community. Insurance requirements for all Thai visas except business visa holders has been a major topic of discussion recently. Meanwhile, it appears on more than one Thai consulate website that the minimum financial requirements for Thai retirement visas is increasing. For example, on the Thai Consulate in Los Angeles‘s website it now appears that 1.2 million baht will be the requirement in a bank account to obtain a Thai O-A retirement visa. In the past, the requirement has long been 800,000 THB. Concurrently, the same website is stating 100,000 THB in pension income would also prove sufficient, where once 65,000 THB was considered adequate. After further review, the Thai Consulate in Sydney‘s website showed similar information. What precisely this means for those looking to undertake the Thai retirement visa process remains to be seen.

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17th October 2021

There are a substantial number of news stories currently noting the announced reopening of Thailand for a broad swath of tourists beginning November 1. To quote directly from the Bangkok Post:

Thailand will allow fully vaccinated visitors from low-risk countries to enter the kingdom without quarantine from Nov 1 as a key effort by the government to boost the economy. In a televised broadcast on Monday night, Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha said he has instructed the Centre for Covid-19 Situation Administration (CCSA) and the Public Health Ministry to consider reopening the country to fully vaccinated tourists without quarantine on Nov 1. However, pre-conditions are that international visitors will need to show that they are Covid-free at their time of travel with an RT-PCR test undertaken before they leave their home country, and then have a test in Thailand…

Clearly the government seems intent upon reopening, but there are some who question whether Thailand will actually reopen on the date selected. Some have pointed out that the deadlines remains tentative. As of the time of this writing the regulations regarding entry to Thailand remain as they have been since April of 2021 for the unvaccinated traveling to Thailand by land, while vaccinated travelers coming by air have seen their quarantine period reduced to 7 days and the unvaccinated must now only quarantine 10 days. Meanwhile, there is also discussion about abolishing the certificate of entry in favor of a “Thailand Pass”. To quote again from the Bangkok Post:

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Digital Government Development Agency are developing a new system to replace the certificate of entry (CoE) for Thais and foreigners who wish to enter the country through an airport. Tanee Sangrat, spokesman for the Foreign Affairs Ministry, said on Thursday a new web-based application called the Thailand Pass system, where people can gather information and upload documents, is being developed for the kingdom’s Nov 1 reopening. Mr Tanee said the Thailand Pass will replace the CoE system and facilitate the filing of an immigration form known as the TM6 and a health declaration form known as T8…

Although the new Thailand Pass will replace the certificate of entry, many of the attributes of this new system appear very similar to the COE system and it should be noted that for some travelers a certificate of entry may still be required. The analysis regarding who requires a certificate of entry to be admitted to Thailand and who can use the Thailand Pass will depend upon the specific facts in a given case.

As Thailand appears to be easing restrictions associated with inbound travel, backlogs in the American immigration system persist. Presently, it is taking an extremely long time, compared to times past, to secure an appointment for an American tourist visa interview. Concurrently, those seeking a K-1 visa or a K-3 visa for a Thai fiancee or spouse to travel to the USA are seeing interview appointments allocated with a decreasing frequency. Furthermore, appointments being issued through the National Visa Center for CR-1 visas and IR-1 visas for immigrant spouses are also increasingly scarce. Hopefully, these delays are temporary and we will see speedier processing of these cases sooner rather than later.

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1st September 2021

The lockdowns in Bangkok and other highly populated areas of Thailand appear to be abating as it has recently been decreed that certain retail businesses may reopen while restaurants and other eateries may again serve dine-in customers from today onward. There seems to be an implication that further easing will be forthcoming, but we have seen that attitude before only to see things suddenly reverse. Hopefully, the business community in Bangkok and Greater Thailand has finally come through the worst of these rather stringent measures and things can move on.

Meanwhile, various destinations in Thailand are attempting to “Move On“. Notably, Phuket has implemented initiatives in the “Phuket Sandbox” program to allow travelers in that location to travel to other destinations after an initial 7 days on the island in the “7+7” program. Although this is definitely good news tourism numbers remain far below normal and therefore it remains to be seen how many people will actually avail themselves of this opportunity. The sandbox initiative has not garnered the tourism interest that many had hoped, but with high season coming this could change. It is worth noting that a number of non-immigrant Thai visa holders have availed themselves of the sandbox scheme as it is viewed as less cumbersome compared to dealing with 14 days of quarantine when traveling to other parts of Thailand.

It is notable that Thailand is one of the only jurisdictions in Southeast Asia which is permitting tourists to enter the country. Not to mention non-immigrant visa holders (most of whom were completely barred from reentry last summer). That stated, issues still arise for foreign nationals in Thailand as there are those who have problems either maintaining their status due to unforeseen work issues or no longer meet the requirements of their lawful status. Under such circumstances it is optimal to avoid falling into overstay and attempt to obtain a Thai visa conversion in order to remain in the Kingdom.

American immigration is not moving as quickly as was the case prior to 2020. That stated, things are moving more quickly compared to the situation in 2020. Although appointments for non-immigrant visas to the USA such as tourist visas are difficult to come by and even obtaining an appointment for a K-1 visa interview can be difficult. There are those who hope that a change in administration in the USA will result in concrete changes to the American immigration apparatus, but any improvements remain to be seen.

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10th August 2021

As the current economic situation in Thailand continues down a precarious path due to lockdowns. There are many who fear tourism may not return to Thailand in high numbers any time in the near future. In fact, quarantine rules do not look like they are going away and the Phuket sandbox has proven to be less of a draw than initially anticipated. There are some who have speculated that Thailand may have come to overly rely upon tourism as an integral component of the overall economy. Whether or not this is true is difficult to ascertain, but it should be noted that anyone predicting the events of 2020 and 2021 in, say, the year 2018 would have been called worse names than crazy so the notion that Thailand came to overly depend upon tourism is only an argument that operates logically in hindsight.

Although the Phuket sandbox has been discussed a great deal as of late, there is also a similar program which has been initiated in Samui and those wishing to avail themselves of this tourism opportunity may do so by traveling through Bangkok in “sealed terminals” in order to undergo “sandbox quarantine” for 14 days on that island. Presently, travel restrictions in Thailand have precluded wide travel latitude for those wishing to leave the Phuket sandbox, but this does not appear to currently be an issue in the Samui system. Those wishing to travel to Bangkok from abroad may do so, but they are still required to undergo quarantine in a Bangkok hotel via the Alternative State Quarantine system.

Business travelers to Thailand are not precluded from using either the Samui or Phuket sandboxes so those with a Thai business visa and/or Thai work permit may return to Thailand without undue hardship. It is worth pointing out that Thailand is one of the few jurisdictions in Southeast Asia which is trying to maintain tourist travel as well as admitting non-immigrant visa holders such as the aforementioned B visa holders as well as those holding an O visa for marriage to a Thai or for retirement. Thai Embassies and Consulates are still issuing O-A retirement visas to those retirees abroad. Thailand remains one of the few countries in Southeast Asia actively issuing visas to foreign retirees.

Those seeking visas to the USA may continue to do so under present circumstances although appointment scheduling has proven somewhat cumbersome in recent months as the American Embassy in Bangkok appears to be either understaffed or unable to process a large caseload due to restrictions associated with the response to COVID-19. However, appointments are available, albeit it in a relatively limited number.

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15th July 2021

As the first two weeks of the “Phuket Sandbox” scheme have elapsed, it appears that program is gaining increasing momentum in terms of tourist interest. Although the program has not been without issues as recent arrivals testing positive for COVID-19 have created situations where Alternative State Local Quarantine measures have been undertaken. That stated, the overall program seems to be proceeding smoothly and offers a glimmer of hope for the Thai tourism industry. It should be noted that the Phuket Sandbox is not reserved for tourists, it is possible for those with a non-immigrant visa to use the Phuket Sandbox as well.

Meanwhile, the island resort of Samui is reopening in a limited capacity to foreign tourists. The Samui Sandbox, or what some have dubbed the Samui corridor (due to the sealed pipeline of travelers transitioning through Bangkok), has commenced in recent days although there seems to be less than optimal demand for this program compared to its Phuket counterpart. To quote directly from a recent article titled “No foreign tourists on first day of Samui reopening” in The Nation:

Only 11 foreigners – all members of the media – will take the Bangkok Airways flight from Bangkok to Samui on Thursday, according to the Koh Samui Tourism Promotion Association. “We do not expect a lot of travellers to visit Thailand in the third quarter this year as the rise in the country’s daily Covid-19 cases would affect their confidence,” association chairman Ratchaporn Poolsawas said on Wednesday. “However, what we can do is start tourist operations in line with standard procedure in a bid to stimulate the country’s tourism.”

Clearly, demand for the Samui project is not as robust as some might hope. However, as the weeks go by the Samui program may prove to be a desired destination for future tourists. Also, it may prove to be an alternative to the Phuket Sandbox in a hypothetical situation where the Phuket program must be rolled back even though this does not appear to be a likely possibility as of the time of this writing.

While positive news abounds for Phuket and Samui, Bangkok remains under severe lockdown conditions presumably throughout the remainder of July. Restaurants cannot provide dine-in services, alcohol service of all kinds are banned, shopping malls are closed, and the city remains in a de facto state of severe lockdown. When exactly this will end remains to be seen as calls from within Thailand and in other jurisdictions are being made for a paradigm shift in the way pandemic response is undertaken with some arguing that the containment strategy is no longer viable especially in light of the devastating economic impact these measures have had and which will presumably continue should these policies continue to be enforced.

While the American Embassy in Thailand continues to provide US visa interviews and other routine services (albeit in a rather truncated manner) some have argued that the Embassy should provide vaccinations for expats Americans. As of the time of this writing, the Embassy has stated this service will not be provided and it seems unlikely this will change any time soon.

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