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Posts Tagged ‘Thai Immigration’

6th January 2019

As the year 2019 opens, it appears as though the process of obtaining and maintaining a Thai or American visa will be more difficult compared to years past. Although certain aspects of each process may involve increased laxity, flexibility, or efficiency the overall theme from immigration authorities in the United States and Thailand would seem to be one of heightened scrutiny and increasingly stringent enforcement measures.

American Immigration Issues

Some facets of the US visa process look to be improving. For example, the Department of State through the National Visa Center and various Embassies and Consulates abroad are becoming more efficient by shifting away from paper documentation over to a new digitized interface allowing faster processing of supporting documentation for immigrant and non-immigrant visa applications. This blogger can say from personal experience that the new system still has some issues to be worked out, but the overall system would suggest that faster processing times at NVC are likely to be a mainstay in the future.

That stated, the overall process of obtaining a US visa would appear to be getting more difficult especially in light of the current administration’s addition of a National Vetting Center tasked with adding scrutiny to the overall adjudication of visa petitions. Meanwhile, policy changes regarding adjudication of visa applications are likely to have substantial impact upon the amount of denials which are issued by USCIS in coming years. A memorandum which came into effect in September of 2018 allows officers of the United States Citizenship and Immigration Service to deny visa petitions much more easily compared to times past when a Request For Evidence generally had to be issued before a denial. These developments coupled with creation of bodies such as the DeNaturalization task force and the prospect of a prolonged government shutdown would suggest that matters pertaining to American immigration are likely to prove more difficult moving forward.

Thai Immigration Issues

Meanwhile, as the United States’ Immigration apparatus becomes more cumbersome, Immigration authorities in Thailand do not seem to be backing down from their position regarding immigration and immigration enforcement in the Kingdom. In the lead up to 2019, the overarching policy of “Good Guys in Bad Guys Out” (a policy of encouraging lawful visitors and immigrants to the Kingdom while attempting to discourage travelers with more nefarious motives) manifested itself in terms of enforcement with “Operation X-Ray Outlaw Foreigner“. By the end of 2018 Surachate “Big Joke” Hakparn had announced that tens of thousand of illegal aliens had been arrested, deported, and blacklisted from returning to Thailand. In December of 2018 further statements would suggest that although a great number of visa violators have been precluded from remaining in Thailand, the Immigration office’s vigilance will not decrease. Concurrently, the process of obtaining extensions of Thai retirement visas and Thai marriage visas are likely to become more difficult for some people as it will no longer be possible to obtain an income affidavit for such extensions. This comes at the same time as immigration authorities make comments that would indicate prospective increased scrutiny on those using visa services to obtain retirement and marriage visa extensions by dint of funds on account in a Thai bank.

All of the above developments would indicate that immigration matters in both countries will continue to be complex if not downright difficult in the coming year and beyond.

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7th June 2018

As noted in the prior entry on this blog, Thai immigration policies, procedures, and enforcement protocols are in a state of flux. This entry will attempt to provide a sort of round up regarding the recent developments with respect to changes in the Thai Immigration apparatus.

In recent weeks, there have been further crackdowns on visa violators. Most notably, there have been raids which have netted a number of foreign nationals either physically present in Thailand while on overstay or present in Thailand with no evidence that the nationals in question had ever been lawfully admitted to the Kingdom in the first place. It seems that this trend of conducting raids at venues where illegal aliens may be present is set to continue. It is notable that schools of all types are being included in such raids.

Furthermore, where once the bureaucracy associated with accepting and processing visa applications (particularly Business visa applications) seemed primarily concerned with simply ascertaining whether the formalities required to secure a visa or visa extension were in place. Now, Immigration authorities and adjudicating officers seem to be prioritizing heightened scrutiny of Thai visa applications.  This is having the effect of seeing further requests for documentation especially in business visa extension applications. This change in attitude also has an investigative component as it seems to be required that all new B visa extension applicants be subjected to inspection by Thai Immigration officers.

Increased enforcement activity has not been confined only to Business visas in recent weeks. In fact, it seems further scrutiny of Thai O visa applications is likely in the future especially in light of authorities recently uncovering what would appear to have been an ongoing scheme to defraud the immigration system though use of sham marriages in Thailand. Although not directly attributable to concern over sham marriages the fact is that fewer and fewer Multiple Entry O visas are being issued by Thai Embassies and Consulates abroad when compared to times past. It is this blogger’s personal opinion that the decline in the number of such visas issued is directly attributable to the fact that Thai Immigration authorities are seeking to scrutinize those living in the Kingdom on a permanent basis and multiple entry visas do not accord them the level of scrutiny as would exist in the adjudication of an O visa extension.

It has been this blogger’s observation that many expats in Thailand take the position that efforts like these eventually fade into the background as the initial zealousness of those undertaking these policies and enforcement measures wanes. However, to assume that these new policies of heightened scrutiny and increased enforcement activities will “just go away” would fail to take into consideration the fact Thai Immigration authorities seem very keen on implementing long term policies and utilizing technology which will preclude regressive tendencies in the system moving forward.

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5th May 2018

For at least 2 years, Thai immigration officials have been ramping up their efforts to improve Immigration and visa policy. We have seen a substantial change in the attitude toward Thai tourist visa issuance as well as Immigration protocols associated therewith. This has especially been the case where those foreigners utilizing tourist visas are suspected of using such travel documents in order to live and work illegally in the Kingdom. Meanwhile, changes to the rules regarding so called “Visa runs”or “border runs” have resulted, as a practical matter, in an immigration apparatus that operates in a wholly different way than it once did.

While the above paragraph describes the changes in the laws, rules, and regulations related to Thai visas, it does not speak to issues involving enforcement of immigration law in the Kingdom as enforcement measures had largely remained unchanged during the time of the legal transitions discussed above: until recently. While the “Good Guys in Bad Guys Out” initiative describes a change in paradigm within the institutions charged with maintaining Thailand’s Immigration apparatus, the “Operation Outlaw Foreigner” and “Operation X-Ray Outlaw Foreigner” programs represent concrete steps taken by Immigration law enforcement officials to confront visa violators and deal with them accordingly. In recent months, an unprecedented number of raids at unprecedented types of venues have taken place in an effort to track down foreigners who are overstaying in Thailand or utilizing visas otherwise meant for recreational pursuits in Thailand to engage in unauthorized employment or as a means for undertaking criminal activity in the Kingdom. These raids have resulted in the arrest and deportation of thousands of foreign nationals.

In the rather recent past, those who maintained lawful non-immigrant status in the Kingdom could generally breathe easily knowing that Immigration officials’ primary targets in immigration crackdowns were: those in the country in overstay status, pretextual tourist visa status, or prolonged visa exemption status. However, recent weeks have shown that immigration officials are placing increased scrutiny upon those who could be considered otherwise lawfully present in the Kingdom on a non-immigrant Education visa. ED visas have been used by many to remain in the Kingdom in order to pursue a course of study. However, Immigration authorities seem to be increasingly of the opinion that such travel documents are being used as a pretext for living in the Kingdom and that the educational endeavor is in fact a sham. Whether this assumption is warranted likely depends upon the underlying circumstances, but this is not the point. Instead, it should be noted that scrutiny such as this represents a substantial change in mindset with respect to immigration officers as such individuals were, at one time, generally satisfied when a non-immigrant visa was produced, but it now seems as though such providence may no longer suffice when attempting to terminate an investigation into one’s status as providence of an ED visa may result in further scrutiny and possible revocation of the visa if it is determined that it is being used as a pretext.

A final noteworthy development: it seems that immigration authorities are now collecting relevant bio-metric data from those foreigners apprehended in the Kingdom for Immigration or criminal violations. In fact, it has been reported that fingerprints, facial recognition, and even DNA collection protocols may be utilized to create a database to track those who have been processed through the immigration system in an effort to track and likely enforce blacklisting measures prospectively.

Those reading this posting are well advised to note that the official attitude toward Immigration matters in Thailand has changed. The once lax enforcement attitude is a thing of the past and if recent reports are any indication, it seems likely that the immigration system will be increasingly stringent in the future.

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17th April 2018

In recent months, this blogger has dealt with a number of cases involving Thai visa applications at a Thai Embassy or Consulate abroad. Furthermore, after initial visa issuance there have been a number of cases involving Thai visa extensions. In nearly every case the process of obtaining the initial visa or extending the previously issued visa has seemed to be more difficult when compared to the past. This blogger has discussed this issue with other expatriates and long term visitors in Thailand and the general consensus seems to conclude that immigration matters are becoming more difficult in the Kingdom. A valid question to ask: is this true? The answer: yes, at least to some degree. While it does not appear that those seeking visas through the One-Stop visa and work permit facilities are particularly burdened by increased document scrutiny and more stringent policy enforcement, although those able to seek benefits in the One-Stop facilities generally would not be particularly “borderline” cases and therefore may not need to fret over increased scrutiny anyway. It does appear that current immigration protocols have had the effect, whether intended or not, of making the process comparatively more difficult to undergo.

It should be noted that processing a visa application through a Thai Consulate abroad or seeking an extension at an immigration office in Thailand is by no means impossible. However, without assiduous compilation of requisite documentation, careful recordation of relevant photographic evidence, and, in some cases, assistance of competent accounting professionals well-versed in the necessities of Thai immigration officials the task of extending a visa can seem virtually insurmountable. There are those who pose the question: does there appear to be any point in the future where these difficulties may ease up? This blogger’s answer: no. Since the advent of the “Good Guys in Bad Guys Out” initiative, immigration officials in multiple regions and in multiple roles have made it clear that relevant regulations will be strictly adhered to while the use of discretion will be curtailed. If anything, it appears that the overarching stringency may spread to other realms which impact foreigners in Thailand. In fact, it recently came to this blogger’s attention that Labor Ministry officials are not as readily issuing 1 year work permits as they once were. Meanwhile, Thai Embassies and Consulates that were once rather lax in issuing long term multiple entry visas for Thailand have either stopped completely, or vastly curtailed the criteria under which such visas would be issued.

The immigration apparatus of Thailand is increasingly looking more and more like those of its counterparts in the West and although many westerners travel to Thailand and complain about the stringency of immigration policy in the Kingdom it still should be noted that Thai Immigration regulations are still, generally speaking, more relaxed than those of the home countries of many of the aggrieved arrivals.

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1st August 2016

In prior postings on this blog the issues of Thai immigration law and immigration enforcement have been discussed. In a rather recent posting it was noted that Thai immigration is placing increased scrutiny upon those seeking marriage visas (officially referred to as Thai O visas) in the Kingdom. It appears that after discovery of a spate of sham marriages perpetuated in order to obtain Thai immigration benefits, Thai immigration authorities began to subject Thai marriage visa applications to more intense scrutiny. This matter apparently remains a top priority of immigration officials in Thailand as a recent article in the Bangkok Post points out that high ranking officials with the Royal Thai Immigration Police have issued new directives with respect to this issue:

Pol Lt Gen Nathathorn warned officers against dishonest acts as he listed the bureau’s action plans to screen foreigners in the country illegally…He ordered immigration officers to investigate if authorities colluded with foreigners to help enable sham marriages.

This news comes amidst the recent revelation that the so-called “border run” method of maintaining lawful immigration status in Thailand is coming to an end. In a recent posting on the Love Pattaya Thailand website it has been noted that as of August 13th 2016 the days of visa running to obtain a 15, 30, or even 60 day stamp is coming to an end. To quote directly from the aforementioned website:

The Immigration Bureau have already told the officials to refuse entry to foreigners on visa runs as a measure to stop the exploitation of tourist visas and visa exemptions to live or work here. Tourists wishing to extend their stay in Thailand must now need to exit the country and apply for a proper tourist visa

In the past, one could hope to obtain a new thirty day stamp at the airport in Thailand so long one was willing to fly out of the country and immediately get on a plane and fly back in. It appears that this is no longer feasible as so-called “fly-out/fly-in” visa runs will be discouraged following August 13th to the point where presumably such travelers will be turned away and not permitted to reenter the country without a duly issued visa from a Royal Thai Embassy or Consulate abroad.

Meanwhile, Japan just recently solidified her position as the number one tourist destination of people from Southeast Asia. Japan tops the list of most favored tourist destinations among Thai nationals. It appears that Thai tourism numbers in Japan has been on the upswing since the easing of visa rules for Thai nationals including 15 day visa free travel.

This news comes at the same time as news that Taiwan is allowing Thai tourists to travel visa free to that country starting August 1st. It will be interesting to see if this move has a positive impact upon the tourism sector in Taiwan.

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10th April 2016

In previous postings on this blog the recent policies of the Royal Thai Immigration Police regarding visa overstayers in Thailand have been noted. In follow up to those articles, it should be noted that Thai immigration officials have recorded a sharp decline in the number of people physically present in Thailand beyond the expiration date of their visa. In a recent Bangkok Post article, the drop in overstay was noted:

The more than 39% decline, from 810,522 in October last year to 486,947 in March, shows “our new measure is effective”, Immigration Bureau chief Nathathorn Prousoontorn said on Friday.

While immigration officers chalk up a victory in the campaign to thwart overstaying foreigners it appears that a new issue has come to the forefront. In another article in a more recent edition of the Bangkok Post suspicious trends in Thai Marriage registration numbers were reported:

Bureau chief Nathathorn Prousoontorn said several foreign nationals are believed to have resorted to sham marriages as a loophole to stay in the country…The [Royal Thai Immigration Police] received a tip-off from the Public Anti-Corruption Commission (PACC) that at least 150 Thai women in one district of a northeastern province had married foreigners in the past few months.

Clearly, the recent spike in marriages and the recent change in immigration overstay policy cannot be assumed to be coincidental. However, the upshot of these developments is the very strong probability that all upcoming Thai marriage visa applications (otherwise referred to as O visa applications) will be more heavily scrutinized when compared to similar applications lodged in the past. This blogger can personally attest to the fact that since policy changes at Thai immigration in late 2015 the process of obtaining or renewing a Thai business visa has been a more intensive endeavor as Immigration officials scrutinize all business visa applications and supporting documentation extremely thoroughly. Therefore, this recent news regarding marriage scrutiny could easily lead one to infer that future marriage visa extension applications and renewal applications could require more documentation and the backlog for issuing such documents could become exacerbated as a result of the increased scrutiny and documentation requirements.

As a general rule, this blogger has advised those interested in remaining in Thailand to understand that the process of obtaining a long term Thai visa and/or a Thai work permit is becoming increasingly complex. As a result of this increased complexity, the notion that the Thai immigration process is something that is quick and easy is simply a fallacy. Thai immigration matters are arguably as complicated and time consuming as immigration issues arising in countries such as the USA or the UK. Those undertaking Thai immigration matters for the first time are strongly encouraged to retain the assistance of a competent professional.

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22nd January 2016

In a recent article in the Pattaya Mail it was noted that those who overstay their visa in Thailand will soon be facing harsh consequences. To quote directly from the aforementioned article:

For those who surrender, foreigners overstaying up to one year will be banned for a year from coming back to Thailand. Three-year bans await overstayers of 1-3 years while those who have lived here without a visa for 3-5 years will be banned for five years. Overstayers of more than five years will be banned for 10 years.

It appears from reading the original notice from immigration that even those who overstay for a period of 90 days will be blacklisted for a 90 day period following their last departure. It would also appear that in conjunction with the recently announced blacklisting rules the Royal Thai Immigration Police have measures in place which will greatly improve that organization’s ability to monitor travelers arriving in Thailand. To quote directly from a recent article in the Bangkok Post:

Immigration police announced Monday the opening of a centralised mechanism to oversee and control the entry and exit of foreigners. The newly established Thai Immigration 24/7 Centre, located at Immigration Bureau headquarters, is divided into three working rooms where officers can monitor real-time CCTV footage at airports, ports and border checkpoints. An advance passenger processing system installed at the centre will allow officers to know personal details of visitors before they arrive, with more than 50 airlines cooperating.

Clearly, Immigration authorities in Thailand are committed to more thorough enforcement of Thailand’s immigration laws. The practical impact of these measures remains to be seen as the new rules regarding overstay are not to come into wide effect until March 20, 2016.

What do these developments mean for foreigner nationals traveling, living, and working in Thailand? First, it is clear that foreigners who once used Thailand’s somewhat lax overstay policy to remain in the Kingdom long term will no longer be able to remain in Thailand this way without some serious repercussions. Also, as Thailand recently announced changes in tourist visa and visa exemption stamp policies it seems clear that although true long term tourists will be able to remain longer in the Kingdom, those who simply use tourist visas as a means of living in Thailand will see this avenue closed in the future.

The Thai business visa remains a viable option for some who wish to remain in Thailand long term while those with a Thai spouse can avail themselves of the O visa to remain in Thailand with their family. Meanwhile, for those who qualify, the Thai retirement visa and the Thai Education visa are also methods of maintaining long term status in the Kingdom.

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5th October 2015

Starting November 13th it will be possible for foreign tourists to apply for and obtain a 6 month Thai tourist visa. To provide more insight into this development it is necessary to quote directly from the Bangkok Post:

Unlike current tourist visas, which offer from one to three entries, the six-month multiple-entry visa will allow unlimited border crossings during the validity period. However, to prevent foreigners from basically living in Thailand on tourist visas, each entry will be limited to 60 days. The new multiple-entry visa will cost 5,000 baht, versus 1,000 baht for a single-entry, 60-day visa, which can be extended in-country for up to 30 days for an additional fee.

As noted above the new tourist visas will be more costly than previously, but the validity period will be longer. Meanwhile, those in Thailand on such visas will be required to adhere to the regulations which are already in place. It would appear that the Thai government is attempting to provide a long term visa solution for those travelers who wish to stay in Thailand for an extended period of time. It should be noted that in recent months Thai Immigration authorities have been cracking down on long term users of Thai visa exemption stamps as well as those attempting to remain in the Kingdom utilizing the Thai Education visa (also referred to as the ED visa). It remains to be seen whether Thai Immigration officers and Consular Officers at the various Royal Thai Embassies and Consulates abroad will be willing to issue multiple Thai 6 month tourist visas, but the creation of this new type of visa should provide a much needed option to longer term tourists.

It may still be possible to obtain a 1 year multiple entry Thai visa from certain countries. Such one year visas are often issued for those wishing to conduct business or work in Thailand (the Thai business visa), stay in the Kingdom with a Thai family member including spouses (the Thai O visa), or retire in Thailand (the retirement visa, also known as the O-A visa). Under certain circumstances a Thai ED visa may still be an option for long term stay, but it has been reported that those staying in the Kingdom on an ED visa to attend Thai language school are being frequently tested on their language capability.

Those who enter the Kingdom in B, O, O-A, or ED visa status may be eligible for a visa extension provided the applicant can provide certain documentation.

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21st July 2014

In recent weeks, sweeping new changes have been announced regarding Thai visa exemptions and so-called visa runs. As has been previously noted on this blog, as of August 12, 2014 those using the in/out method to obtain 30 day visa exemption status will no longer be permitted to do so. However, in the weeks leading up to this clampdown anecdotal evidence has been noted which shows that those currently seeking to enter the country this way have been denied entry. Meanwhile, further information has come to light which shows that some have been stopped at the Thai border attempting to enter on Thai 60 day tourist visas, many such individuals have apparently been turned away.

It further came to light that Thai immigration authorities will be imposing a blacklisting scheme to bar those who have overstayed in the country from reentering for certain designated periods of time. What this system will ultimately look like remains to be seen as it was recently rumored that officials are re-looking at the plan in an effort to ensure that consequences are not excessively harsh. However, it would appear that long term overstayers and visa runners could see themselves turned away at the border in the future and possibly banned from returning for an extended period depending upon their situation.

A bright note was reported this week, as officials have apparently announced that visa exemption extensions may be granted in the future for 30 days as opposed to a mere 7.  Apparently, immigration officials are looking into allowing 30 day extensions for those in Thailand on a 30 day exemption stamp. Obviously, the decision to grant a 30 day extension will be made on a case by case basis and at this time it seems that the proposed plan would require the foreign tourist to pay 1900 baht when seeking a visa extension.

All of these developments mean that in the future those wishing to remain in the Kingdom of Thailand for a prolonged period of time are well advised to obtain a long term Thai visa in a category in which they qualify. For example, those coming to Thailand to work or start a company are well advised to seek a Thai business visa as well as a Thai work permit. Meanwhile, those wishing to study in Thailand may do so, so long as they obtain a Thai education visa from a school duly accredited by the Thai Ministry of Education. Retirees may remain in the Kingdom on a Thai retirement visa so long as they have the requisite funds or pension. Concurrently, those with family in Thailand could apply for a Thai O visa so long as they meet the necessary financial requirements.

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15th May 2014

It has been reported that officials at the Immigration Department in Thailand are taking steps to curtail the use of 30 day Thai visa exemptions by those traveling to the Kingdom of Thailand. It also appears that usage of Thai tourist visas is to be increasingly scrutinized. Apparently, these measures are being undertaken in an effort to decrease purported abuse of the immigration system by those who routinely travel to border crossings, depart the country, and immediately re-enter in order to gain a new visa exemption stamp or further status on a multiple entry tourist visa. These so-called “visa runs” have been a mainstay in Thailand for a number of years as many long term tourists have used this method to maintain lawful status. It appears that moving forward these methods may no longer be possible.

The Phuket News has recently reported that “Out-In” visa runs have officially been deemed a thing of the past. Citing Lieutenant General Phanu Kerdlaphon the aforementioned publication quoted the General as saying:

“We have been very lenient about this. I’ve had many comments about [our excessive leniency]…Thirty days should be enough for a normal tourist.”
However, there may be room for some discretion by Immigration officers to allow legitimate tourists back into the country on an exemption stamp as the General further noted:
“If they really want to travel around the country for more than 30 days, then they must show us a plausible plan. If officers are suspicious, then they will carry out checks…If we believe their purpose in coming to Thailand is not what they say it is, then we will order them to leave and they will be blacklisted. They will not be able to return to Thailand, ever.”
Clearly, those without a plausible reason for remaining in Thailand could face severe sanctions. These efforts appear to be less focused on business or marriage visa holders and instead directed at those who use the current Thai visa exemption system and tourist visa system to illegally work in Thailand as the General further pointed out:
“Lots of nationalities come to Thailand on tourist visas but they come to work. I really want them to do the right thing, not try to dodge around the law and evade taxes…If you are coming here not as a tourist, then please get the correct visa. Do it properly…”
This appears aimed primarily at visa exemption stamps, but as noted above even those with an actual tourist visa could be affected. This blogger has learned anecdotally that some travelers with multiple entry tourist visas have been stopped at the border and, in some situations, apparently turned away if they have multiple tourist visas in their passports. How this will impact tourism remains to be seen, but it is clear that those wishing to remain in Thailand for a long period of time should obtain a long term visa or visa extension in the category that fits with their intentions. Currently, it is possible to remain in Thailand for one year intervals by obtaining a Thai business visa, a Thai ED visa (Education), a Thai Marriage Visa, or a Thai retirement visa.  In some cases, long term multiple entry visas in the aforementioned categories can be obtained at Thai Embassies and Consulates abroad. However, regulations regarding such travel documents have become more stringent in recent years when compared with the past. It appears immigration and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs would prefer that a foreign national obtain a 90 day visa abroad and thereafter apply for a Thai visa extension once in the Kingdom.
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