Integrity Legal

Posts Tagged ‘Thailand Immigration’

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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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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14th March 2020

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

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

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

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12th March 2020

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

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

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

As this situation continues we will update this blog accordingly.

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12th March 2020

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

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

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

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11th March 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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