Integrity Legal

Posts Tagged ‘Thai Visa’

5th January 2021

As 2021 dawned the situation in Thailand, specifically the response to COVID-19, deteriorated. Presently, in place of full lockdowns, much of Thailand is operating under a system of provincial imposition of “highly controlled area” status which is restricting many operations many people once took for granted. How has this impacted the immigration system? Initially, it seemed this turn of events would not impact prospects for gaining admission to Thailand. Then, it appeared that those from the UK might be restricted from arriving in Thailand. To quote directly from the Bangkok Post:

The Ministry of Public Health will ask the Centre for Covid-19 Situation Administration (CCSA) to defer the entry of British visitors to the country after the fast-spreading B117 strain of Covid-19 was found in four British nationals entering Thailand on Dec 21.

This caused a great deal of consternation especially among those seeking Thai visas from the Embassy in the UK. However, further deliberation seems to have resulted in the decision that arrivals from the United Kingdom will not be impeded. Quoting directly from The Nation:

Thailand’s measures to control the spread of Covid-19 are strong enough to not warrant special measures against travellers from the United Kingdom, Foreign Ministry spokesperson Thanee Saengrat said.

Based upon the above information, it seems logical to presume that the overall situation regarding foreign nationals arriving in Thailand remains much as it did prior to the new year. Meanwhile, a number of travelers are finding that trying to process their Thai visa application on their own from abroad is a cumbersome endeavor. The overall process of gaining lawful admission to Thailand is greatly changed compared to times past. One major sticking point for many is the addition of the certificate of entry to the process. This document is required in addition to a Thai visa. Concurrently, documentation showing a lack of infection for COVID-19 in addition to fit to fly documentation has proven nettlesome for many. Couple this with the fact that those entering Thailand are still required to undergo Alternative State Quarantine for 14 days prior to gaining total access to the Kingdom. There was some discussion regarding the possibility of seeing the quarantine time frame reduced to 10 days or even less. However, under present circumstances this seems highly unlikely. The notion of “travel bubble” arrangements also being brought online seems unlikely at this time as well.  Although many in Thailand are hopeful that the disbursement of a vaccine may result in a return of tourists in 2021. As of the time of this writing, this remains conjecture.

Turning to American immigration, many have found themselves in a kind of processing “limbo” with respect to cases such as the K-1 fiance visa as well as the various marriage visas including the K-3 visa, CR-1 and IR-1 visa categories. Currently, a large number of cases remain at the National Visa Center and seem unlikely to be processed out for interview soon. There appeared to be hope in the last part of the final quarter of 2020 as some cases were being scheduled for interview, but that hope may be dashed as the current situation in Thailand may result in further interview cancellations. This situation is fluid and still evolving.

Many hope that a transition to a new administration will herald an end to certain arbitrary and capricious aspects of the immigration process in its current form, but it should be noted that it takes time for bureaucracies to change and therefore a Biden presidency may not immediately see major changes to visa case processing in 2021.

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8th December 2020

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

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

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

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

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5th November 2020

For those unaware, our firm maintains a Youtube channel in order to provide daily updates regarding Thai, American, and international immigration matters as well as information of a general nature regarding Thai legal issues and legal news for expats.

In the aftermath of the 2020 election in the USA, there has been a question posed: how will the outcome impact American Immigration? As noted in a video on our aforementioned YouTube Channel, it appears that the ultimate result of the election is unlikely to have a dramatic impact upon American visa processing, at least in the near term. As noted in prior postings to this blog, the US government’s response to COVID-19 has resulted in a slowing of case processing at the United States Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS), the National Visa Center (NVC), and US Embassies and Consulates abroad (including the American Embassy in Bangkok). It seems unlikely that even if the government’s administration changes due to the election that we will see faster processing times for immigration cases in the near term. That stated, the situation remains fluid and unforeseen developments could see cases such as K-1 visa applications move with more speed compared to the past months.

The Thai Immigration situation remains fluid as well. Recently, the government terminated the Thai visa amnesty. Concurrently, it appears that some tourists are beginning to return to Thailand using the special tourist visa (STV) scheme. However, the tourist numbers are small compared to numbers in the years leading up to 2020. Thai Immigration and officials at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs seem increasingly keen to allow the return of expats from abroad. The O-A retirement visa category has been prioritized for issuance of certificates of entry (COE) for prospective travelers to Thailand. This is happening as foreign nationals traveling to Thailand in business visa status appear to be on the rise. Those who have a Thai spouse or other family in Thailand can also avail themselves of an O visa in order to enter the Kingdom.

There has been some conjecture that the Thai government may promulgate rules allowing property purchasers to travel to Thailand. This proposal seems to be geared toward increasing the demand for Thai condos. However, these proposals have yet to be taken up by relevant authorities and therefore it remains to be seen whether Thai property ownership will be deemed a sufficient reason for sponsoring a visa and/or certificate of entry for the Kingdom of Thailand.

The entire process for traveling to Thailand remains cumbersome compared to routine protocols. As noted above, a certificate of entry, in addition to a Thai visa, is necessary for one to travel to Thailand. Prospective entrants are also required to obtain fit to fly documentation and remain in alternative state quarantine (ASQ) for 14 days (although there is speculation this may be reduced to 10 days) before being permitted unfettered access to the Kingdom.

 

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8th October 2020

There have been some recent developments with respect to Thai immigration in recent weeks. Notably, the Thai visa amnesty was retroactively extended after ostensibly ending. Concurrently, it now appears that those who hold a Thai retirement visa (specifically an O-A or O-X visa as opposed to an O visa) will now be able to seek a Certificate of Entry to Thailand. There has also been discussion in recent weeks about the notion of decreasing the amount of quarantine that one must undergo when traveling into Thailand. Furthermore, Thai immigration officials have discussed easing travel restrictions for those traveling to Thailand on business as APEC card holders can now seek a COE while there has also been discussion about allowing certain businesspeople into Thailand without the requirement that they hold work permit status. However, implementation on rules regarding this issue remain to be seen. Finally, officials are attempting to bring the new Special Tourist Visa online as fast as they can, but actual practical developments remain to be seen. In short, there seems to be something akin to a “slow thaw” taking place with respect to Thai immigration rules and while things appear to be trending toward further opening of the country there is still a long way to go before normality returns.

Meanwhile, with respect to American immigration there have been some notable developments as the US Embassy in Bangkok has begun processing interviews again for those whose prior interview was cancelled due to the shutdown. It should be noted that interviews are merely being re-scheduled as cases that had not received an interview date prior the shutdown have yet to be scheduled, but the trend seems to be pointing to further interviews occurring in the future. Concurrently, news from inside the United States is not as positive as layoffs related to USCIS funding shortfalls may result in delayed processing times for immigration petitions. It appears likely that certain aspects of the American immigration process are poised to take longer compared to times past, while perhaps other segments of the process may be unaffected or, in limited circumstances, more expedited compared to more routine circumstances.

Amidst all of the turmoil in the immigration world, we are bringing online the Immigator App. Admittedly, the timing is not optimal for an app which assists people in keeping their visas, passport, and immigration documentation organized. However, in many ways it is more important than ever for people to keep careful track of their lawful immigration status and the documentation associated therewith. Therefore, we hope that this free app will assist both clients of our firm and the public at large in navigating the Thai, American, and international immigration systems.

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12th September 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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.

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7th July 2020

The Immigration systems of both the United States of America and the Kingdom of Thailand have arguably been subjected to more changes recently than they have undergone in many years. Recently, President Trump announced an expansion of his travel ban on certain foreign nationals. The relevant portions can be found in the excerpt from the White House’s website:

Sec2.  Suspension and Limitation on Entry.  The entry into the United States of any alien seeking entry pursuant to any of the following nonimmigrant visas is hereby suspended and limited, subject to section 3 of this proclamation:

(a)  an H-1B or H-2B visa, and any alien accompanying or following to join such alien;

(b)  a J visa, to the extent the alien is participating in an intern, trainee, teacher, camp counselor, au pair, or summer work travel program, and any alien accompanying or following to join such alien; and

(c)  an L visa, and any alien accompanying or following to join such alien.

It should be noted, although the expanded ban appears to have rather wide ranging effects, those seeking the K-1 visa for a foreign fiancee, a K-3 visa, CR-1 visa, or IR-1 visa for the spouse of an American citizen are unaffected by this recent proclamation. That stated, while this ban does not have a direct impact, the fact that US Embassies and Consulates overseas are still not open for visa processing continues to stall immigration matters.

Meanwhile, Thailand is taking stringent measures in an attempt to forestall any further spread of COVID-19 in the Kingdom. With nearly 6 weeks of zero in-country transmissions, Thailand is a proving to be a global success story in the “fight” against Coronavirus. These measures appear to be bearing fruit, but Thailand remains in lock down from an international travel context. It was recently announced that some foreigners would be allowed to enter Thailand. At the same time, Thai officials are attempting to implement a “travel bubble” scheme which will allow some tourists to enter Thailand under specific conditions. As of the time of this writing, the initiation of “travel bubbles” has yet to be seen, but they are expected to come online in September. Thereafter, there will be a phased program of increasingly less stringent restrictions with the culmination presumably manifesting as tourism to resume as normal. It should be noted that the countries surrounding Thailand appear to be taking similar positions to that of Thailand with respect to inbound tourist arrivals, at least for the foreseeable future.

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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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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.

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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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