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28th September 2022

Officials in Thailand are set to end the Emergency Decree on October 1. With the end of the emergency decree there are immigration implications. Most notably, beginning in October all present testing and vaccination requirements associated with entering Thailand will be rescinded. However, the end of the emergency decree does not necessarily entail all positive developments. Since March of 2020, Immigration officers in Thailand have had increased discretion regarding the issuance of Thai visa conversion. Under normal circumstances, the prevailing paradigm in Thai Immigration is that non-immigrant visa holders (or those holding an exemption) should leave Thailand and obtain a new visa, via a “visa run,” if they wish to have a different non-immigrant category. Following the inception of the emergency decree, and the issues associated with travel over the past 2 and a half years, Immigration officials had wider latitude to grant in-country changes of visa status. As travel is now less cumbersome, and therefore the capability of completing a border run is now restored, it seems likely that Immigration’s discretion to allow in-country change of visa status may evaporate.

All news is not necessarily bad, however, as October 1 will see an extension of the lawful status bestowed upon those entering Thailand in Thai visa exempt status. Until now, those traveling to Thailand and entering with a Thai visa exemption stamp have only been allowed 30 days of status. It was recently announced that such status will be extended to 45 days. Concurrently, those entering Thailand and obtaining a visa on arrival will be granted 30 days of status instead of the standard 15. Apparently, this measure is only temporary as this initiative is designed to spur tourism to Thailand during the upcoming high season. Whether this plan will have the desired effect remains to be seen.

October also ushers in a new insurance regime associated with the Thai O-A retirement visa, as opposed to the O retirement visa extension issued by Thai Immigration officials in-country. Those wishing to obtain or maintain a Thai O-A retirement visa will now need to show that they have at least 3 million baht in insurance coverage, or the equivalent amount of funds in a Thai bank account if a visa extension in O-A status is sought.

There are many who ponder whether the end of the emergency decree will also result in faster processing of certain US visas. It remains to be seen whether this development will have any appreciable impact upon the US Immigration process, especially Consular processing, but it stands to reason that this development could only operate to the benefit of those seeking immigration benefits for the USA.

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28th August 2022

As the Immigration system in the Thailand increasingly normalizes two major events are near on the horizon with respect to Thai Immigration policy. The most pressing development is the introduction of the Thai Long Term Residence Visa (which is NOT actually a visa which confers permanent residence in Thailand). To quote directly from a recent article in the Bangkok Post:

Since the lifting of the strict lockdown in the first quarter of 2022, and the decrease in the number of Covid-19 cases, the Thai economy has shown signs of recovery. However, Thailand still faces a battle in bringing its economy back up to pre-pandemic levels in order to compete with its Asean neighbours, not to mention the world. Therefore, in June this year, the Royal Gazette formally announced the introduction of an initiative between the Ministry of Interior (MOI), the Ministry of Labour (MOL), and the Board of Investment (BOI) in the form of a Long-Term Resident (LTR) visa that is designed to attract a new wave of foreign direct investment (FDI) and knowledge transfer experts….Furthermore, while some of the related official regulations were enforceable in the middle of this year, others will be gradually implemented from the end of August 2022 to early September 2022 as the BOI plans to start accepting applications from Sept 1, 2022, onwards. However, there has been no announcement regarding the actual starting date or official online system to support the applications.

Although these visas seems unlikely to be utilized broadly, it does appear to be government policy to attract “High Net Worth” individuals to Thailand. Meanwhile, changes are also set to take effect with regard to the O-A retirement visa, to quote directly from the Pattaya Mail:

Special rules apply to those retirees with an O/A annual retirement visa issued by Thai embassies abroad. They need comprehensive, not Covid only, medical insurance worth US$100,000 to obtain the visa in the first place. They will also need it on applying for an annual extension of stay at immigration offices, although the amount is much smaller – around US$13,000 or 400,000 baht for hospitalization – until October 2022. Thai Cabinet news releases last year stated that the renewal insurance minimum would rise to US$100,000 on that date.

September and October appear to be months where major changes to Thai immigration policy will transpire. It is notable that this is all occurring while major changes are taking place with regarding to Thai visa exemption stamps and visas on arrival are poised to provide double the status to those eligible upon entry to Thailand. It will be interesting to see exactly how these developments play out from a practical perspective.

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19th January 2022

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

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

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

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

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

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