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Posts Tagged ‘travel bubble’

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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