Integrity Legal

Posts Tagged ‘Thai Immigration’

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.

more Comments: 04

16th August 2020

The coronavirus pandemic continues to create issue in the realm of immigration. However, in an American context, politics may also be playing a role as noted in a recent article from Forbes:

“Earlier this month, the USCIS notified about two-thirds of its employees that they would be furloughed starting August 30th because of budget shortfalls, which the agency hoped Congress would fill in its next relief package before negotiations stalled recently…“I don’t think I can emphasize enough how large an issue this will be – we’re looking at the final days of legal immigration as we know it in the United States,” said Ruark Hotopp, a representative for USCIS workers in Nebraska…”

A decrease in manpower of the scope and scale contemplated in the article above, when discussing this possible USCIS furlough, would have a tremendous impact upon the American immigration apparatus as it would likely cause substantial increases in processing times and therefore delays in the acquisition of visas. It stands to reason that no visa category would be unaffected by this turn of events. Therefore, it is likely that those seeking employment based visas as well as family based visas (such as the K-1 visa, K-3 visa, CR-1 visa, or IR-1 visa) will see negative consequences should funding fail to materialize.

Meanwhile in Thailand, the Thai immigration system remains in a strange state. On the one hand, those stranded in Thailand have seen a chaotic situation unfold, to quote directly from the Bangkok Post:

“Immigration rules tend to remain unchanged and rather rigid for a prolonged period of time, but when they shift, they shift dramatically. COVID-19 may prove to be the catalyst for a major paradigm shift in terms of Immigration policy thinking in Thailand.”

Concurrently, those with long term Thai visas stranded abroad have had to wait patiently as returning to Thailand has proven effectively impossible until recent days and even those permitted to return to Thailand are only permitted to do so under extremely constrained parameters. The Thai government seems keen to permit entry of tourists to Thailand, while simultaneously concerned about forestalling the spread of infections. For these reasons, initiatives such as the “travel bubble” scheme were initially floated, only to be reassessed as it now appears that the “safe and sealed” initiative to allow in certain foreign tourists may be taking off. However, as the flight ban on the vast majority on in-bound air travel remains in force it seems unlikely that Thailand will see standard tourist numbers return in the immediately foreseeable future. That stated, the future of immigration policy in Thailand remains to be seen.

more Comments: 04

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.

more Comments: 04

21st April 2020

It recently came to this blogger’s attention that President Trump has announced he will be suspending immigration into the USA. To quote directly from a recent artcile in Bloomberg.com:

President Donald Trump said he’ll sign an executive order temporarily suspending immigration into the United States as the country tries to contain the spread of the coronavirus. Trump made the announcement by tweet late Monday night, and did not offer specifics, such as the time frame or the scope of who would be affected. The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Clearly, the ramifications of this announcement are significant. However, as noted above, the specifics of this suspension have yet to be fully explained. That stated, as this executive order is designed to be temporary there may not be long term ramifications. Concurrently, it seems probable that while immigration is suspended it is still possible to file immigration petitions so as to have one’s case in the queue when the visa interview facilities are brought back online at US Embassies and Consulates abroad and, provided the proposed executive order is lifted, immigration to the USA can continue.

Meanwhile, on a somewhat brighter note, it appears that Thai Immigration will be extending the automatic Thai visa extension program, also referred to as the Thai visa amnesty or Thai visa waiver program, for those who have been stranded in Thailand, to quote directly from a recent article from Reuters:

Thailand’s cabinet approved a second automatic visa extension for foreigners for three more months on Tuesday, in a bid to prevent long queues at immigration centres and stem the spread of the coronavirus. Foreigners whose visas had expired since March 26 will be permitted to stay until July 30 without having to apply for an extension, said Narumon Pinyosinwat, spokeswoman for the Thai government…

Although this is certainly good news it remains to be seen if this announcement will pertain to those who are present in Thailand in a non-immigrant visa, such as a Thai Business Visa, Thai Retirement Visa, or Thai O visa. Further, those who saw their visa status expire prior to March 26, 2020 may have issues maintaining visa status if they used  an Embassy letter to maintain lawful status prior to the enactment of the amnesty. It should also be noted, that the previous announcement regarding visa extension took some time to see implementation after cabinet approval as the regulatory scheme had to be drawn up. Therefore, it remains to be seen exactly what the practical implications of both of these announcements will be.

We will keep readers posted via this blog.

more Comments: 04

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.

more Comments: 04

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.

more Comments: 04

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.

more Comments: 04

9th February 2020

The coronavirus has been in the news quite a bit in recent days. It appears that China is taking drastic measures to curtail movement of people domestically and internationally in an effort to curb transmission of the disease. This article will look at some of the responses to these circumstances from both the Thai and American Immigration perspective.

Prior to the coronavirus’s prominence as a concern for international health authorities, Thai Immigration officials seemed to be mulling over the notion of waiving the fees associated with Thai tourist visas for Chinese and Indian nationals. This seemed to have been discussed in response to what was viewed by some as a rather less-than-optimal high season. Presently, it seems unlikely that visa fees will be waived for the foreseeable future. This news came at the end of a year which saw Thai Immigration officials promulgating regulations which placed new requirements and scrutiny on those seeking long-stay visas (including retirement, marriage, and business visas). It seems policymakers in the Immigration sector were looking to encourage a higher volume of tourists while simultaneously enhancing scrutiny and on those wishing to live in Thailand for prolonged periods.

As of the time of this posting, the numbers of Chinese nationals entering Thailand as tourists have substantially dropped. This is likely due to the fact that many cities and regions in China have been effectively quarantined and travelers are precluded from departing many cities in China for Thailand, or anywhere else. Concurrently, Thai Immigration authorities in airports are taking measures to screen individuals entering the country. However, it seems China’s domestic travel policies seem to be curtailing more travelers than Thai immigration policy. Exactly how coronavirus-related developments will further impact Thai immigration and tourism policy remains to be seen.

Meanwhile, Coronavirus is impacting United States Immigration policy. However, as of the time of this writing it seems that the impact will not be substantial for those seeking US visas from places such as Thailand, Laos, or Cambodia as a recent proclamation from President Trump stated:

“I have determined that it is in the interests of the United States to take action to restrict and suspend the entry into the United States, as immigrants or nonimmigrants, of all aliens who were physically present within the People’s Republic of China, excluding the Special Administrative Regions of Hong Kong and Macau, during the 14-day period preceding their entry or attempted entry into the United States.”

This news comes after reports that US visas are currently not being issued in China. Clearly, the administration is taking the coronavirus seriously, but it does not seem likely that this will directly impact the bulk of visa seekers from Southeast Asia. The current policy only will pertain to those who have visited China relatively recently. Therefore those seeking visas who hail from other countries (such as member states of ASEAN), and have not visited China, are unlikely to be affected by the new American proclamation regarding the coronavirus.

more Comments: 04

1st January 2020

By any estimate, 2019 was not a great year for those dealing with either the American or Thai Immigration systems. In 2019, those seeking to live in Thailand under an O retirement or marriage visa saw many of the rules regarding that visa category changed. For example, it is now no longer possible for many expats in Thailand to use income affidavits issued from the Embassies or Consulates of their home country in order to prove their financial ability to remain in the Kingdom. Concurrently, the regulations regarding the income or bank balance requirements associated with the marriage and retirement visas are now more strictly enforced and may require a more prolonged maintenance of a bank balance compared with times past. Meanwhile, with respect to Thai retirement visas specifically, the rules regarding retirement visa issuance and extension underwent another adjustment with the introduction of the rule that retirement visa holders in Thailand must obtain health insurance coverage in order to cover medical expenses while maintaining their retiree status in Thailand. Although there were no specific changes with regard to the rules pertaining to Thai business visas, 2019 saw a level of scrutiny with respect to adjudication which is rather unprecedented.

Meanwhile, in the USA the Immigration apparatus has seen a great deal of administrative transformation. Some Immigration practitioners in the USA are calling this the “Invisible Wall” in reference to the current President’s promise to build a wall to deter illegal immigration. With respect to US visas from Thailand specifically, it should be noted that 2019 saw the closing of the USCIS office in Bangkok. Moving forward through 2020 and beyond it appears that those who could once file for Immigration benefits through that office, including applications for IR-1 and CR-1 visas from Thailand, must now file their cases through the relevant USCIS office in the USA. Furthermore, it appears that the number of requests for evidence in cases involving American family based cases is on the rise while it remains to be seen exactly what the National Vetting Center is doing as cases processing through the National Visa Center seem to be processed in increasingly slowly. In cases involving K-1 visas from Thailand the overall process has seen little fundamental change, but the as with other American immigration petitions there seems to be a rise in the number of RFEs issued especially in the wake of changes to the relevant forms associated with such matters.

What can be expected moving forward? With respect to Thai Immigration it seems unlikely that fundamental changes to the retirement visa category (such as the medical insurance requirement) are in the offing. In fact, it seems that the current regulatory framework has been set in place as a rather permanently. However, there is speculation that insurance requirements may be imposed for other categories such as marriage visas and perhaps even business visas, but this remains pure speculation. Further, in light of recent down turns in certain parts of the Thai tourism sector and the increasing strength of the baht it seems Immigration officials are signaling a more moderating tone in order to forestall damage to the tourism sector. With regard to American immigration it seems logical to surmise that the trends of 2019 will continue into 2020 with everyone focusing upon the forthcoming election in November as a possible indicator of where immigration policy will be heading in the forthcoming decade.

more Comments: 04

20th June 2019

In the past 18 months it appears that there has been a major shift in the institutional paradigm of both the American and Thai immigration systems. For example, notwithstanding the fact that the United States Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS) has recently announced that more petition categories will be processed digitally moving forward, it appears that the increasingly complex nature of immigration forms and procedures is actually slowing down the overall US visa process. This news comes closely on the heels of the announcement that all International USCIS offices will be closed. In recent announcements, March 2020 is the deadline at which all international operations of USCIS shall cease. For readers in Thailand it should be noted that this announcement will also impact the USCIS Bangkok Field Office, although the exact date of closure remains to be seen. In anticipation of the upcoming office closures USCIS recently made the following announcement (quoting directly from the official USCIS website):

Beginning July 1, USCIS will no longer accept Form I-407, Record of Abandonment of Lawful Permanent Resident Status at international field offices by mail or in person.

Seemingly in anticipation of questions raised by relevant parties living abroad, the announcement went on to note:

In very rare circumstances, a U.S. embassy, U.S. consulate, or USCIS international field office may accept a Form I-407 in person if an individual needs immediate proof that they have abandoned LPR status.

It is worth noting that the announcement makes special mention that I-407 surrenders at Embassies and Consulates will only be accepted under “rare” circumstances, it seems logical to presume that as a practical matter it will not be possible to file an I-407 form abroad after July 1, 2019. As can be seen from the information above, undertaking matters which pertain to American immigration is becoming increasingly arduous. It does not appear that the US immigration process is going to become less difficult to navigate any time in the near future.

Meanwhile, in Thailand, authorities are rolling out changes to rules regarding certain long-stay visa categories. Most notably, Ministry of Public Health officials have announced that an insurance regime will be brought into effect which will require foreign retirees in Thailand to obtain insurance as part of the application process for a Thai retirement visa. There is still some confusion regarding whether these new insurance regulations will pertain only to those who file a retirement visa application abroad or whether these new regulations will also apply to those seeking an extension of stay in retiree status in the Kingdom. Presently, all commentary on that topic is speculation as the new regulations have yet to be fully finalized.

Meanwhile, those seeking Thai visas from Laos have seen the Thai Embassy in Vientiane begin processing visa application appointments online. This has resulted in the number of applications processed diminishing as the appointment system effectively “caps” the number of applications which can be lodged in a given day. The upshot of this is that the Thai Consulate in Savannakhet has seen an increase in their case load. Laos is a popular destination for those in Thailand wishing to undertake a “visa run” or “border run” in order to prolong their lawful status in the Kingdom. The fact that the number of applications processed in Vientiane has diminished has resulted in the number of applications processed in Savannakhet rise.

After being granted lawful status in Thailand, the authorities appear increasingly concerned that foreign nationals are reporting their whereabouts in Thailand. A harder line regarding filing of the TM30 notice of residence has resulted in the number of fines being levied for failure to file being increased. Meanwhile, the added complexity of TM30 compliance has added a new layer of difficulty to the overall immigration process. In short, immigration matters in both Thailand and the United States are arguably becoming more byzantine. For this reason, it may be prudent for those wishing to navigate the immigration system to retain the services of a legal professional in order to achieve success in obtaining and maintaining lawful status in either jurisdiction.

more Comments: 04

The hiring of a lawyer is an important decision that should not be based solely on advertisement. Before you decide, ask us to send you free written information about our qualifications and experience. The information presented on this site should not be construed to be formal legal advice nor the formation of a lawyer/client relationship.