Integrity Legal

Posts Tagged ‘US Visas’

17th October 2021

There are a substantial number of news stories currently noting the announced reopening of Thailand for a broad swath of tourists beginning November 1. To quote directly from the Bangkok Post:

Thailand will allow fully vaccinated visitors from low-risk countries to enter the kingdom without quarantine from Nov 1 as a key effort by the government to boost the economy. In a televised broadcast on Monday night, Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha said he has instructed the Centre for Covid-19 Situation Administration (CCSA) and the Public Health Ministry to consider reopening the country to fully vaccinated tourists without quarantine on Nov 1. However, pre-conditions are that international visitors will need to show that they are Covid-free at their time of travel with an RT-PCR test undertaken before they leave their home country, and then have a test in Thailand…

Clearly the government seems intent upon reopening, but there are some who question whether Thailand will actually reopen on the date selected. Some have pointed out that the deadlines remains tentative. As of the time of this writing the regulations regarding entry to Thailand remain as they have been since April of 2021 for the unvaccinated traveling to Thailand by land, while vaccinated travelers coming by air have seen their quarantine period reduced to 7 days and the unvaccinated must now only quarantine 10 days. Meanwhile, there is also discussion about abolishing the certificate of entry in favor of a “Thailand Pass”. To quote again from the Bangkok Post:

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Digital Government Development Agency are developing a new system to replace the certificate of entry (CoE) for Thais and foreigners who wish to enter the country through an airport. Tanee Sangrat, spokesman for the Foreign Affairs Ministry, said on Thursday a new web-based application called the Thailand Pass system, where people can gather information and upload documents, is being developed for the kingdom’s Nov 1 reopening. Mr Tanee said the Thailand Pass will replace the CoE system and facilitate the filing of an immigration form known as the TM6 and a health declaration form known as T8…

Although the new Thailand Pass will replace the certificate of entry, many of the attributes of this new system appear very similar to the COE system and it should be noted that for some travelers a certificate of entry may still be required. The analysis regarding who requires a certificate of entry to be admitted to Thailand and who can use the Thailand Pass will depend upon the specific facts in a given case.

As Thailand appears to be easing restrictions associated with inbound travel, backlogs in the American immigration system persist. Presently, it is taking an extremely long time, compared to times past, to secure an appointment for an American tourist visa interview. Concurrently, those seeking a K-1 visa or a K-3 visa for a Thai fiancee or spouse to travel to the USA are seeing interview appointments allocated with a decreasing frequency. Furthermore, appointments being issued through the National Visa Center for CR-1 visas and IR-1 visas for immigrant spouses are also increasingly scarce. Hopefully, these delays are temporary and we will see speedier processing of these cases sooner rather than later.

more Comments: 04

1st September 2021

The lockdowns in Bangkok and other highly populated areas of Thailand appear to be abating as it has recently been decreed that certain retail businesses may reopen while restaurants and other eateries may again serve dine-in customers from today onward. There seems to be an implication that further easing will be forthcoming, but we have seen that attitude before only to see things suddenly reverse. Hopefully, the business community in Bangkok and Greater Thailand has finally come through the worst of these rather stringent measures and things can move on.

Meanwhile, various destinations in Thailand are attempting to “Move On“. Notably, Phuket has implemented initiatives in the “Phuket Sandbox” program to allow travelers in that location to travel to other destinations after an initial 7 days on the island in the “7+7” program. Although this is definitely good news tourism numbers remain far below normal and therefore it remains to be seen how many people will actually avail themselves of this opportunity. The sandbox initiative has not garnered the tourism interest that many had hoped, but with high season coming this could change. It is worth noting that a number of non-immigrant Thai visa holders have availed themselves of the sandbox scheme as it is viewed as less cumbersome compared to dealing with 14 days of quarantine when traveling to other parts of Thailand.

It is notable that Thailand is one of the only jurisdictions in Southeast Asia which is permitting tourists to enter the country. Not to mention non-immigrant visa holders (most of whom were completely barred from reentry last summer). That stated, issues still arise for foreign nationals in Thailand as there are those who have problems either maintaining their status due to unforeseen work issues or no longer meet the requirements of their lawful status. Under such circumstances it is optimal to avoid falling into overstay and attempt to obtain a Thai visa conversion in order to remain in the Kingdom.

American immigration is not moving as quickly as was the case prior to 2020. That stated, things are moving more quickly compared to the situation in 2020. Although appointments for non-immigrant visas to the USA such as tourist visas are difficult to come by and even obtaining an appointment for a K-1 visa interview can be difficult. There are those who hope that a change in administration in the USA will result in concrete changes to the American immigration apparatus, but any improvements remain to be seen.

more Comments: 04

10th August 2021

As the current economic situation in Thailand continues down a precarious path due to lockdowns. There are many who fear tourism may not return to Thailand in high numbers any time in the near future. In fact, quarantine rules do not look like they are going away and the Phuket sandbox has proven to be less of a draw than initially anticipated. There are some who have speculated that Thailand may have come to overly rely upon tourism as an integral component of the overall economy. Whether or not this is true is difficult to ascertain, but it should be noted that anyone predicting the events of 2020 and 2021 in, say, the year 2018 would have been called worse names than crazy so the notion that Thailand came to overly depend upon tourism is only an argument that operates logically in hindsight.

Although the Phuket sandbox has been discussed a great deal as of late, there is also a similar program which has been initiated in Samui and those wishing to avail themselves of this tourism opportunity may do so by traveling through Bangkok in “sealed terminals” in order to undergo “sandbox quarantine” for 14 days on that island. Presently, travel restrictions in Thailand have precluded wide travel latitude for those wishing to leave the Phuket sandbox, but this does not appear to currently be an issue in the Samui system. Those wishing to travel to Bangkok from abroad may do so, but they are still required to undergo quarantine in a Bangkok hotel via the Alternative State Quarantine system.

Business travelers to Thailand are not precluded from using either the Samui or Phuket sandboxes so those with a Thai business visa and/or Thai work permit may return to Thailand without undue hardship. It is worth pointing out that Thailand is one of the few jurisdictions in Southeast Asia which is trying to maintain tourist travel as well as admitting non-immigrant visa holders such as the aforementioned B visa holders as well as those holding an O visa for marriage to a Thai or for retirement. Thai Embassies and Consulates are still issuing O-A retirement visas to those retirees abroad. Thailand remains one of the few countries in Southeast Asia actively issuing visas to foreign retirees.

Those seeking visas to the USA may continue to do so under present circumstances although appointment scheduling has proven somewhat cumbersome in recent months as the American Embassy in Bangkok appears to be either understaffed or unable to process a large caseload due to restrictions associated with the response to COVID-19. However, appointments are available, albeit it in a relatively limited number.

more Comments: 04

14th June 2021

It recently came to this blogger’s attention via the website of the US Embassy in Thailand that there is a new policy in place regarding the expired passports of US Citizens. To quote directly from the aforementioned website:

U.S. citizens may directly return to the United States with certain expired U.S. passports.

If you are overseas and your passport expired on or after January 1, 2020, you may be able to use your expired passport to return directly to the United States until December 31, 2021.

You qualify for this exception if all the following are true:

  • You are a U.S. citizen.
  • You are currently abroad seeking direct return to the United States.
  • You are flying directly to the United States, a United States territory, or have only short-term transit (“connecting flights”) through a foreign country on your direct return to the United States or to a United States Territory.
  • Your expired passport was originally valid for 10 years. Or, if you were 15 years of age or younger when the passport was issued, your expired passport was valid for 5 years.
  • Your expired passport is undamaged.
  • Your expired passport is unaltered.
  • Your expired passport is in your possession.

You do not qualify for this exception if:

  • You wish to depart from the United States to an international destination.
  • You are currently abroad seeking to travel to a foreign country for any length of stay longer than an airport connection en route to the United States or to a United States territory.
  • Your expired passport was limited in validity.
  • Your expired passport is a special issuance passport (such as a diplomatic, official, service, or no-fee regular passport).
  • Your expired passport is damaged.
  • Your expired passport is altered.
  • Your expired passport is not in your possession…

This is a major departure from standard procedures regarding American passports. Those keenly interested in this issue are advised to click the link above to read the entire announcement. Clearly, the United States Embassy in Thailand is attempting to provide solutions to Americans abroad who have seen their passports expire as the duration of the Thai government’s response to the COVID situation drags on. Although this is something of an “ad hoc” initiative the State Department’s policy is laudable as it creates flexibility for many Americans abroad who otherwise would be unable to return home.

Meanwhile, Thai Immigration policy continues to evolve. There has been significant progress made with regard to the proposed “Phuket Sandbox” initiative which, once implemented, would allow travelers to be admitted to Phuket, Thailand without being required to quarantine in their hotel for 14 days. However, there are been a number of developments in recent weeks which appear both positive and negative. For example, the following was noted in a recent article on ThaiVisa.com:

Over 50 percent of foreigners who had confirmed they would visit Phuket as part of the ‘Phuket Sandbox’ project have now cancelled their plans, Thailand’s tourism minister has said. Pipat Ratchakitprakarn, Minister of Tourism and Sports, told Spring News that after the Center for Economic Situation Administration (CESA) increased the minimum period of stay from 7 days to 14 days, 29,700 foreigners have now cancelled plans to visit Phuket. Under the Phuket Sandbox scheme, vaccinated foreigners do not need to be quarantined in a hotel room, but they are required to remain in Phuket before travelling to other provinces in Thailand…

The fluidity of regulations pertaining to the sandbox initiative seems to be alienating a number of otherwise interested travelers. Meanwhile, ThaiVisa.com went on to note that:

The Phuket Sandbox project, the launch of which is best described as chaotic, suffered another blow last week after it was announced that bars and pubs in Phuket would remain closed when the first tourists start arriving from July 1.

It seems immigration and quarantine policy are not the only obstacles standing in the way of substantial tourist numbers returning. It should be noted that the Phuket initiative has yet to be brought online so it remains to be seen if the “sandbox” plan will actually be implemented. It seems prudent to infer based upon comments from relevant Thai government officials that the sandbox program will be implemented. However, the popularity of such a plan remains to be seen. Presently, those arriving in other parts of Thailand, including Bangkok and Chiang Mai, are required to undergo 14 days of alternative state quarantine (ASQ) before being released. This quarantine pertains not only to foreign tourists, but also to those entering Thailand on non-immigrant visas such as the business visa, retirement visa, marriage visa as well as Thai nationals and permanent residents. The end date for quarantine enforcement in Thailand remains to be seen.

more Comments: 04

24th May 2021

The overall posture of American immigration has improved considerably since the beginning of 2021. With the transition to a new administration there have been a number of changes in how immigration cases are processed. As noted previously, the public charge rule has reverted back to pre-Trump criteria. Concurrently, it appears the current administration has rolled back a potentially disturbing policy regarding collection of biometric data from not only intending immigrants to the United States, but American petitioners and sponsors as well. Presently, there are a number of backlogs holding up cases at various points in the US immigration process. For example, processing times at USCIS are longer overall. Meanwhile issues at the National Visa Center are prolonging case processing. Finally, the US Embassy in Bangkok, Thailand has had to postpone a number of appointments citing the COVID situation. Although it seems the Embassy is prioritizing family based Immigrant Visa Unit matters over the non-immigrant visa unit as some level of priority seems to be conferred to cases such as applications for the K-1 visa (for fiances of America citizens) and the marriage visa cases (K-3, IR-1, and CR-1 visas). There does seem to be some hope on the horizon that things will start looking better as this administration does not seem as intent on being deliberately obtuse with respect to processing immigration cases.

Turning to Thai immigration news, the situation in Thailand has turned less positive since April and the upshot in an immigration context is the re-extension of the quarantine time in Thailand. As of the time of this writing, all travelers (including those vaccinated) arriving in Thailand are required to undergo a 14 day quarantine. On a more general note, Thailand remains under a state of pseudo-lockdown which is having a tremendously negative impact upon the SME sector. However, there is hope that things will begin to turn around as the COVID vaccination is rolled out in early June. Key officials in Thailand have also stood firm behind their commitment to reopen Phuket for the “sandbox” initiative in July. This is apparently still moving forward and, as yet, this doesn’t seem likely to be cancelled. That stated, many initiatives (such as “travel bubbles” or reduced quarantine) have been proposed and ultimately shot down or have been rolled out only to be rolled back. Therefore, it is difficult to predict exactly how things will progress moving forward in the course of the next few weeks, but hopefully these days ahead will be better than those recently transpired.

more Comments: 04

23rd April 2021

As the government’s response to the COVID situation persists, there are a number of tangential effects reverberating in an Immigration context. For example, the oft discussed “sandbox” initiative in Thailand to allow particularly Phuket to reopen in July may be under threat. To quote a recent article from The Phuket News:

The question of re-opening Thailand to Tourism, starting with Phuket, has obviously taken a knock backwards. The Tourism and Sports Minster said, “The key determinant is insufficient vaccines, we are concerned about the re-opening timeline. We still need to discuss the vaccine administration plan. If the herd immunity goal cannot be achieved, we may have to consider opening only certain areas in Phuket,” he said.

Although July, the proposed month to begin the sandbox program, is some time off and the future is difficult to predict it seems increasingly unlikely that the program will be implemented in that time frame. That stated, a recent excerpt from the Bangkok Post could be viewed as more optimistic:

However, authorities will continue with their plan to bring in vaccinated international visitors via a pilot project called Phuket Sandbox in July. The Tourism and Sports Ministry will help distribute Covid-19 vaccines to cover 70% of Phuket’s residents to prepare for international tourists.

Meanwhile, the truncated quarantine policies, allowing for 7 days of quarantine and 10 days of quarantine for foreign vaccinated and unvaccinated travelers, respectively appears unchanged. This appears to be the case so long as said foreign nationals are not originating from “high risk” countries. In that case, the 14 day quarantine remains the standard. These protocols also include those traveling to Thailand on Thai retirement visas as well as visas for marriage and business purposes.

The economy in Thailand has been taking a hit due to the recently announced “lockdown” measures (although officials are at pains to point out that an actual “lockdown” is not in effect). All bars and entertainment establishments have been ordered closed and restaurants cannot serve alcohol for some weeks. How exactly this situation plays out remains to be seen, but Thai business leaders have voiced their concerns about the devastating economic impact of these policies.

In the realm of American immigration, the situation has had something of an impact upon those seeking visas to the USA, but cases continue to process out of the National Visa Center and the Embassy continues to conduct interviews. Whether this trend continues remains to be seen, but we will provide updates on the situation as it continues to evolve.

more Comments: 04

9th September 2010

The American Department of State’s website can be a useful resource for those interested in US Immigration. That said, there are many repositories of good information throughout the internet and some less-than-ideal resources. The following announcement was posted on the website of the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA):

Due to technical software problems, the Department of State’s “Visa Policy Updates” page of their website is currently unavailable for updates. Please note: the webpage itself is currently available; however, it does not include recent updates by DOS. Until further notice, Visa Policy Updates will not be sent to subscribers, but many documents still can be found on the Department of State website at the Visa Policy Update page.

The Department of State is responsible for administering the various American Missions located abroad. These include American Embassies, Consulates, and Institutes located in Asia. Many find that information on the Department of State can be very helpful when trying to decide what type of visa is most suitable for an individual wishing to travel to the United States of America.

Some Embassies and Consulates are considered to be so-called “high volume” Posts.  In matters involving US Immigration, this appellation could be applied to the US Embassy Thailand or the US Consulate HCMC as these posts handle a larger caseload of American Immigration matters compared to some of their counterparts in Southeast Asia.  That said, adjudications of visa applications are conducted by an officer at the US Embassy or US Consulate with jurisdiction over the proposed beneficiary.  Such an adjudication is made pursuant to relevant US Immigration law and based upon the Consular Officer’s findings of fact. Each case is adjudicated based upon the unique set of facts in the case. Therefore, the rather general information which is provided on various websites throughout the internet, both government sponsored and privately funded, cannot necessarily be relied upon as definitive for every situation.

American Embassies and Consulates process a large number of visa applications each year. As each adjudication is different there is effectively no way of providing uniform information about the visa application adjudication process. Those interested in obtaining a visa to the USA are well advised to contact a US lawyer with experience dealing with United States Immigration as such an individual can provide relevant insight into the visa process and advise clients as to the appropriate visa category based upon the client’s circumstances.

For related information please see: USCIS Processing Times.

blah

more Comments: 04

20th March 2010

Recently, this author came across an announcement that a new refugee bill was introduced in the United States Senate. Senator Patrick Leahy, a Democratic Senator from the State of Vermont, introduced the “The Refugee Protection Act of 2010.” The provisions of the Act would supplement the Refugee Act of 1980.

In another recent announcement the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA) discussed the ways that the proposed bill will improve conditions for American refugees. The following list of improvements was quoted directly from the AILA website:

“Increased Protections for Asylum Seekers:

  • Eliminate the requirement that asylum applicants file their claim within one year of arrival.
  • Protect particularly vulnerable asylum seekers by ensuring they can pursue a claim even where their persecution was not socially visible.
  • Ensure fair process by requiring an immigration judge to give notice and an opportunity to respond when the judge requires corroborating evidence of the asylum claim.
  • Give an applicant the opportunity to explain and clarify inconsistencies in a claim.
  • Enable minors who seek asylum to have an initial interview with an asylum officer in a non-adversarial setting.
  • Allow the Attorney General to appoint counsel where fair resolution or effective adjudication of the proceedings would be served by appointment of counsel.

Reforms to the Expedited Removal Process:

  • Require the referral of asylum seekers to an asylum officer for a credible fear interview, and, if credible fear is found, for an asylum interview.
  • Authorize the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom to conduct a new study on the effects of expedited removal authority on asylum seekers.

Parole of Asylum Seekers:

  • Codify the current DHS policy that asylum seekers be considered for release (“parole”) and requires DHS to issue regulations establishing criteria for parole.
  • Establish a nationwide, secure “alternatives to detention” program.
  • Require changes in the immigration detention system to ensure asylum seekers and others have access to counsel, medical care, religious practice, and visits from family.

Terrorism Bar to Admissibility:

  • Modify definitions in the statute to ensure that innocent asylum seekers and refugees are not unfairly denied protection as a result of the material support and terrorism bars in the law, while ensuring that those with legitimate ties to terrorist activity will continue to be denied entry to the United States.

Protection for Refugees and Asylees:

  • Eliminate the one-year waiting period for refugees and asylees to apply for a green card.
  • Allow certain children and family members of refugees to be considered as derivative applicants for refugee status. All such applicants must pass standard security checks.
  • Authorize the Secretary of State to designate certain groups as eligible for expedited adjudication as refugees.
  • Prevent newly resettled refugees from slipping into poverty by adjusting the per capita refugee resettlement grant level annually for inflation and the cost of living.”

How this bill fares in the Senate remains to be seen, but one can hope that some new measure of protection will be accorded to foreign refugees seeking asylum in the United States of America, particularly in the context of expedited removal as this can cause a great deal of suffering for many of those trying to get into the United States in order to flee persecution.

United States Immigration for Refugees is a major concern in Southeastern Asia as there are many displaced ethnic and religious groups throughout the region. In most cases, refugees come from countries such as Burma or Laos, as Thailand sees few refugees departing for America. For further information regarding American visas from Southeast Asia and Thailand specifically please see: US Visa Thailand.

more Comments: 04

25th February 2010

The K3 Visa was designed as an expedited alternative to Immigrant Marriage visas such as the IR1 Visa and the CR1 Visa. At one time, it could take as long as 3 years to process a marriage visa petition, which is why Congress created the K-3 visa category. However, in recent years the need for the K-3 visa has been less acute when compared to the past as the current processing times for the aforementioned Immigrant marriage visas is about 11-12 months. When comparing this to the K3 visa processing time one can see that the K-3 visa is becoming less of a necessity.

With that in mind, the United States Department of State’s National Visa Center (NVC) recently made an important announcement with regard to K-3 visas, the following quote is from a State Department publication promulgated by the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA):

“Important Notice: Effective February 1st, 2010, when both the I-129F petition for a nonimmigrant K visa and the I-130 petition for an IR-1 (or CR-1) spouse of a U.S. citizen visa have been approved by USCIS and sent to the National Visa Center (NVC), the availability as well as the need for a nonimmigrant K-3 visa ends. If the NVC receives both petitions:


The nonimmigrant K visa will be administratively closed.
The application process explained below will not be applicable and cannot be used.


The NVC will contact the petitioner and you with instructions for processing your IR-1 (or CR-1) immigrant visa. For more information on the immigrant visa process review the Immigrant Visa for a Spouse webpage. If the NVC does not receive your I-130 petition and I-129F at the same time, the NVC will process your I-129F petition. Then NVC will send the petition to the embassy or consulate in the country where the marriage took place. If your marriage took place in the U.S., the NVC will send the petition to the embassy or consulate that issues visas in your country of nationality. If your marriage took place in a country that does not have an American embassy, or the embassy does not issue visas, the NVC will send your petition to the embassy or consulate that normally processes visas for citizens of that country. For example, if your marriage took place in Iran where the U.S. does not have an embassy your petition would be sent to Turkey.”

There are some who are likely asking themselves: What does this all mean? USCIS adjudicates all visa petitions and, upon approval, forwards them to the National Visa Center (NVC). NVC processes all K3 visa applications before they go to the Consulate or Embassy abroad (for those applications which are to be processed in Thailand, the NVC handles the application prior to receipt by the US Embassy Bangkok).

In essence, the NVC will no longer process K-3 visa applications if an Immigrant visa application is received by the NVC prior to, or at the same time as, a K3 application. As a practical matter, all K-3 petitions have an Immigrant visa counterpart. It is believed that, most of the time, the NVC receives these applications either in tandem or nearly simultaneously. There may be a few instances where a K-3 application will make it to NVC prior to the Immigrant visa application, but for the most part this is not the case. As a result, it is highly likely that the K-3 visa will no longer be available to those seeking marriage visa benefits because the Immigrant visa application will reach the NVC prior to, or at the same time as, the K-3 application.

more Comments: 04

22nd December 2009

In a recent blog posting the former President of the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA), Mr. Charles Kuck, praised Congressman Luis Gutierrez for proposing an Immigration Reform Bill in the United States House of Representatives. Currently, some members of AILA feel that the American Immigration system is highly flawed and, to quote Mr. Kuck’s blog posting:

“The results are tragically similar, children separated from their parents, husbands separated from their wives, businesses unable to secure their future because of a lack of talent and skilled employment, and an economy unable to nimbly shift from the 19th and 20th century into the 21st century. As a country, we can no longer tolerate what has become a human disaster.

The human perspective of United States Immigration policy is an aspect that some lawmakers fail to consider, but one that they probably should not overlook because America is a nation founded by immigrants and it is our immigrant heritage that makes America a vibrant and innovative nation. The most disturbing facet of the current United States Immigration infrastructure is the fact that it does have a tendency to keep family members separated for, what can turn out to be, a substantially long period of time. For those couple who follow the proper immigration procedures it could still take longer than one year to re-unite a couple.

Of further importance is the need to rectify the US Immigration apparatus with regard to same-sex couples. Unfortunately, due to provisions in the Defense of Marriage Act, it is not possible for same-sex married couples to obtain US Immigration benefits based upon a lawfully executed marriage. There are advocates in the House of Representatives and Senate who wish to change this unfortunate state of affairs, but it seems that they have an uphill battle ahead of them.

Another critical aspect of US Immigration that is desperately in need of an overhaul is the area of employment based visas. Although America is only slowly coming out of “The Great Recession” and is still reluctant to allow more foreign workers into the American labor force, this is a necessity as foreign highly-skilled workers keep the US economy on the cutting edge of both innovation and technology. The United States does itself a disservice by prohibiting foreign skilled workers from entering the country. Hopefully Congressman Gutierrez will be able to get this much needed bill passed and usher in a modern era in US Immigration.

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.