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Posts Tagged ‘visa’

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beginning in October all present testing and vaccination requirements associated with entering Thailand will be rescinded.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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28th July 2022

The Thai Immigration system remains in something of a state of flux, although the overall trend is positive. Many of the travel restrictions which had previously been imposed in Thailand have now been lifted. For example, Thailand Pass has been totally mothballed. However, there are presently a number of changes to Thai retirement visas which appear imminent. Notably, the Thai O-A retirement visa‘s insurance requirements appear likely to increase substantially in coming weeks. to quote directly from a entry of Legal.co.th regarding Thai retirement visa insurance:

[I]t was announced that O-A Retirement visas are going to see the insurance coverage requirement go up to 100,000 US Dollars or self-insurance thereof, so roughly the equivalent of 3 million Baht basically shown in a Thai bank account in order to maintain O-A Retirement Visa status.

Meanwhile, insurance seems to be a rather nettlesome issue as a proposed “Tourism Fee” has proven difficult to implement while many question the need for such a measure especially as the tourism sector in Thailand is tenuously recovering. Although it now appears this initiative has been suspended. Another issue recently in the news, seemingly unconnected to immigration policy, pertains to Thai real estate law. It seems proposed “Long Term Residence Visas” (albeit something of a misnomer as these travel documents do not confer permanent residence in Thailand) may allow foreigners to own Thai real estate under limited restrictions. However, even this proposal seems to be under serious scrutiny. To quote directly from a recent article in the Bangkok Post:

A property executive who requested anonymity said many Thais might disagree with the government’s attempt to attract affluent foreigners by granting them full land ownership of one rai for residential use. “It’s good that the government wants to boost the economy by attracting foreign investment,” said the executive. “Thailand is very attractive among foreigners. They want to stay here as our medical services are good, the cost of living is low, the food is superb, and we have a lot of international schools for their children.” However, some locals think it is unfair to them, as many still cannot afford to buy property.

Clearly, the notion of foreign nationals being able to acquire residential real estate in Thailand is not a settled issue. Furthermore, based upon prior announcements from the Thai Land Office it seems that land ownership in Thailand associated with LTR visa status may never be a reality in Thailand.

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30th June 2022

Many Changes Afoot in Thailand

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There have been a number of changes in Thailand in recent weeks, most notably: the Thailand Pass system (which has persisted since March 2020 with the creation of certificates of entry). This system has proven to be a major hindrance to the recovery of the tourism sector in Thailand. Many in Thailand and around the world are happy to see the end of the system. Another significant change in recent weeks has been the repeal of the mask “mandate” (a supposed requirement notwithstanding a lack of legal codification) requiring people to wear a mask even in outdoor public places. The repeal of this “mandate” will likely prove a boon to the tourism industry in Thailand as these requirements (regardless of their legal foundation) may have put off a number of prospective travelers to Thailand.

On the Thai Immigration front, there have been several announcements in recent weeks regarding the creation of the Long Term Residence, or LTR, visa in Thailand (a “residence” visa in name only as these proposed visas appear to be non-immigrant in nature although they confer a substantial portion of lawful status in Thailand, namely 10 years). There appear to be four subcategories to choose from for the prospective long term “resident” in Thailand. One category appears aimed at high net worth retirees, while another is for those who invest significant capital into Thailand, another seems geared to long staying professionals, and finally there appears to be a “digital nomad” LTR visa. However, September is the earliest that it seems such visas will be available. Concurrently, it is noteworthy that this new visa category is unlikely to be utilized by a broad segment of the expat population in Thailand, but actual usage remains to be seen.

All of this news comes on the heels of a general easing of rules regarding establishments’ opening hours in Thailand as tourists begin to trickle back into the Kingdom and enjoy the various entertainment venues the country has to offer.

On the United States Immigration front, the backlog of cases continues to cause relative delays in processing compared to times past. Many are waiting longer time periods to see visas such as the K-1 visa to be issued. Meanwhile, those seeking immigrant spouse visas, such as the CR-1 visa or the IR-1 visa are dealing with increasing delays due to the review process at the National Visa Center. Hopefully these issues will abate throughout the remainder of 2022, but such developments remain to be seen.

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30th April 2022

It has recently come to this blogger’s attention that the Thailand Pass, a system not unlike the US’s Electronic System for Travel Authorization (also known as ESTA), will remain in place for at least the immediately foreseeable future. To quote directly from Thai PBS World:

The Centre for COVID-19 Situation Administration (CCSA) will not scrap the “Thailand Pass” scheme, as has been widely anticipated, but will shorten the registration process for overseas tourists applying to enter Thailand as the “Test and Go” one-night quarantine scheme for the fully vaccinated is scheduled to come to an end on April 30, CCSA assistant spokesperson Sumanee Wacharasint said today (Thursday). Dr. Sumanee added, however, that when COVID-19 situation in the country steadily improves, the CCSA may consider further easing of restrictions. She explained that there are currently four steps in the “Thailand Pass” application process, namely checking of vaccination certification, checking of the evidence of advanced hotel bookings, checking of proof of insurance coverage while in Thailand, and proof of booking for RT-PCR testing…Meanwhile, Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha will personally oversee preparations by all agencies to cope with overseas arrivals, once the “Test and Go” scheme ends on April 30, according to Traisulee Traisoranakul, deputy spokesperson for Government House today (Thursday).

The Thai Pass has proven to be an obstacle to seeing tourism fully recover in Thailand as many prospective tourists do not wish to undertake the process of getting a Thailand Pass issued. That stated, there is reason to be hopeful for the return of tourists to Thailand as a substantial amount of obstacles have been removed for both vaccinated and unvaccinated travelers wishing to gain admission to Thailand. Most notably, either of the aforementioned groups of travelers, with correct documentation, can now avoid the need to quarantine in a Thai hotel. This requirement, sometimes referred to as the Test and Go program, has been removed.

Notwithstanding recent announcements from the Biden administration regarding the desire to decease the Immigration case processing backlog, US visa cases are still processing in a relatively slower manner than they were prior to the pandemic. This seems to be especially true in cases where applicants are seeking immigrant spouse visas, such as the CR-1 visa and the IR-1 visa, for the USA. The National Visa Center seems to be a major sticking point in terms of overall processing time. For this reason, some prospective immigrants are opting to use the K-1 visa rather than an immigrant spouse visa in order to gain admission to the USA more quickly. Hopefully the situation will improve over the course of the rest of the year and we will update this blog accordingly.

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30th March 2022

Thai Immigration rules have been easing substantially in recent weeks. However, the Thailand Pass remains a rather obtuse obstacle for many would-be travelers to Thailand. It appears that is vexing issue may soon end. To quote directly from Thai PBS World:

The Ministry of Tourism and Sports will propose to the Centre for COVID-19 Situation Administration (CCSA) that the “Thailand Pass” requirement for all international arrivals be revoked and that the RT-PCR COVID-19 tests required upon arrival be replaced with the quicker Rapid Antigen Tests. According to Tourism and Sports Minister Phiphat Ratchakitprakarn, the replacement of the RT-PCR test on arrival, tentatively set to start on May 1st, with antigen tests conducted by formal medical facilities, would only be possible if COVID-19 infections and deaths during and after the long Songkran long holiday in April remain stable, at between 50,000 and 60,000 cases a day, including those who have only tested positive using antigen tests and daily fatalities do not exceed 100.

Although it remains to be seen if the Thailand Pass will be terminated, as of the time of this writing an end to the PCR test prior to departure for Thailand appears to be on the cards. Should this come to pass, it would substantially improve the present protocols associated with entry to Thailand. It is hoped that this will spur demand in the Thai tourism sector. Meanwhile, there appears to be some really good news with respect to US visa processing. To quote directly from the USCIS website:

Today, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services is announcing a trio of efforts to increase efficiency and reduce burdens to the overall legal immigration system. USCIS will set new agency-wide backlog reduction goals, expand premium processing to additional form types, and work to improve timely access to employment authorization documents. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic and resource constraints resulting from the prior administration, USCIS inherited a significant number of pending cases and increased processing times. Through today’s actions by the Biden administration, USCIS is acting to reduce these caseloads and processing times, while also ensuring that fair and efficient services are available to applicants and petitioners…To reduce the agency’s pending caseload, USCIS is establishing new internal cycle time goals this month. These goals are internal metrics that guide the backlog reduction efforts of the USCIS workforce and affect how long it takes the agency to process cases. As cycle times improve, processing times will follow, and applicants and petitioners will receive decisions on their cases more quickly. USCIS will increase capacity, improve technology, and expand staffing to achieve these new goals by the end of FY 2023. The agency’s publicly posted processing times show the average amount of time it took USCIS to process a particular form – from when the agency received the application until a decision was made on the case. Internally, USCIS monitors the number of pending cases in the agency’s workload through a metric called “cycle times.” A cycle time measures how many months’ worth of pending cases for a particular form are awaiting a decision. As an internal management metric, cycle times are generally comparable to the agency’s publicly posted median processing times. Cycle times are what the operational divisions of USCIS use to gauge how much progress the agency is, or is not, making on reducing our backlog and overall case processing times.

Although it is highly unlikely that this will have an immediate impact upon overall processing times, especially for K-1 visas for fiances and K-3 visas for spouses (not to be confused with IR-1 or CR-1 visas), it is likely that this will reverse a troubling overall trend in the American immigration apparatus and hopefully we will begin to see more normalized processing times by the end of 2022.

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26th February 2022

In what can only be described as good news for the tourism industry in Thailand, it appears the re-introduced “Test and Go” scheme is about to be less cumbersome. To quote directly from a recent article in the Bangkok Post:

The government will further relax entry rules for foreign visitors starting next month, bowing to demand from the local tourism industry to lower costs as more countries ease border controls to lure holidaymakers. Vaccinated arrivals to Thailand will not be required to undergo a mandatory polymerase chain reaction test on the fifth day of the arrival starting March 1. Instead, they can do a self-antigen test, scrapping the requirement to have a confirmed hotel reservation for the test. The Centre for Covid-19 Situation Administration (CCSA), the main virus task force chaired by Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha, also lowered the minimum medical insurance coverage for visitors to no less than $20,000 from $50,000.

The 5 day test requirement proved to be a major sticking point for many prospective travelers especially as it created a rather expensive accommodation requirement. It is also noteworthy that insurance requirements have been eased as well. Insurance requirements have proven to be a point of concerns for many would-be tourists to Thailand. It is also a concern for many retirees in Thailand. This is especially the case as new regulations are set to come online in October which would require those with an O-A retirement visa to obtain 100,000 USD coverage for health insurance. For those unable to obtain such coverage, it may be possible to utilize new rules allowing for “self-insurance“. That stated, the requirements would mean a substantially higher burden on some prospective retired expats. It is worth nothing that these requirements do not appear to apply to those holding an O retirement visa, but only the O-A subcategory.

The Thailand Elite Visa will now have the option for issuance of a Thai work permit, but with a price tag of 32 million Baht, and the fact that the Elite visa does not confer Thai permanent residence, it seems unlikely that a large number for foreign nationals will avail themselves of the privilege.

Meanwhile, in an American immigration context, backlog appears to be the greatest overall concern. Quoting directly from a recent article from the Guardian:

America’s immigration courts are struggling to function at the most basic level, with courts that are already woefully understaffed and judges often undertrained now overwhelmed by a growing backlog of more than 1.6m cases, industry leaders have warned. The system is so damaged that judges, scholars and attorneys all share concerns about whether immigrants due in court will even receive notice before their hearings so they know to show up and aren’t ordered deported in absentia – an urgent concern made worse by volatile immigration policies at the US-Mexico border.

Many similar issues are occurring in the Department of Homeland Security’s U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS) as backlogs and slow processing plague cases of those seeking a K-1 fiance visa or marriage visas such as the K-3 visa or the immigrant spouse visa categories such as the CR-1 or IR-1 visa. There is legitimate concern that these backlog issues are straining the underlying relationships in these cases to the point where they are sometimes destroyed. Hopefully these issues will be rectified in the foreseeable future.

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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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21st December 2021

There was discussion that the “test and go” scheme, which effectively eliminated quarantine for foreign travelers, would be suspended and then the discussion became moot as authorities in Thailand announced that the scheme would end effective immediately. To quote directly from the Thai Enquirer website:

The Thai government said on Tuesday that it will scrap the recently implemented Test and Go Plan as Omicron variant cases spike worldwide. The Test and Go Plan, which allowed foreign arrivals to skip quarantine, and the Thailand Pass system will be suspended and reevaluated again on January 4.

This raises the question: what about those who already booked their travel plans and were expecting to use the “test and go” system? Well, apparently, they will be allowed to enter so long as they had already booked their travel, quoting further:

All travelers that previously applied for and received the Thailand Pass can still enter the kingdom until January 10 but must report two more PCR negative tests.

Meanwhile, it seems the Thailand Pass system may also be suspended. To quote directly from the ASEAN Now website:

Thailand has suspended its ‘Thailand Pass’ and ‘Test & Go’ schemes due to fears over the Omicron variant of COVID-19. Thailand’s Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-O-Cha has ordered the immediate suspension of new registrations for Thailand Pass and at the same reinstated mandatory quarantine effective immediately. The PM announced on Tuesday afternoon that Test & Go will be put on hold until at least January 4, 2022. The so-called ‘Sandbox’ programs will also be suspended. “After Dec. 21, there will be no new registrations for ‘Test and Go’, only quarantine or Phuket sandbox,” said deputy government spokeswoman Rachada Dhanadirek.

With a “stroke of the pen” the travel situation has reverted back to the status it was at in mid-summer of 2021. This raises the question: will certificates of entry once again be the order of the day when traveling to Thailand? It would appear so, although the situation remains in flux and could change rather rapidly as past events have shown.

Concurrently, many of those wishing to obtain visas to the USA are finding that backlogs are common throughout the Immigration process. Presently, there are very few interview being scheduled at the US Embassy in Bangkok, citing concerns about the pandemic. Furthermore, American tourist visa applications are not processing as quickly as they did in the past due to interviews being scheduled nearly a year out. Even cases that have seen interview are seeing issues as Administrative Processing is delaying a number of cases, sometimes for a prolonged period of time.

Hopefully, the overall situation will improve and we will update this blog as the situation evolves.

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22nd November 2021

As Thailand’s recent reopening continues unabated the Thailand Pass appears to pose issues for some wishing to travel to Thailand. The following was quoted from the official website of the Bangkok Post:

Some hotels are deceiving visitors from overseas, taking room reservations but omitting transport from the airport and Covid-testing, which means they must buy a new package on arrival or be rejected. Apisamai Srirangson, a spokeswoman for the Centre for Covid-19 Situation Administration, said on Monday that some hotels misled visitors and booked them only for the room. The charge did not include a limousine service from the airport to the hotel or the RT-PCR Covid-19 test on arrival, even though both were required as conditions of entry on a Thailand Pass…Thailand Pass replaced the certificate of entry (CoE) on Nov 1 when the kingdom reopened to visitors. It requires visitors to have been fully vaccinated, have a clean RT-PCR test within 72 hours before boarding their flight and have US$50,000 health insurance.

Clearly, not all of the “bugs” have been worked out of the system as some of these issues may have been due to the vast number of technical issues associated with the increased logistics associated with traveling to Thailand under current conditions.

Meanwhile, there are rumors circulating that Thailand may soon see a reopening of the nightlife venues as the country moves forward. Prior announcements have stated that Thailand’s nightlife sector (bars, pubs, and entertainment zones) will not reopen until mid-January at the earliest, but there is now talk among some government officials that things may reopen sooner than that. However, an official announcement remains to be seen.

Recent policy changes with respect to retirement visas (and indirectly, reentry permits) may be the cause of consternation among the expat retiree community. Insurance requirements for all Thai visas except business visa holders has been a major topic of discussion recently. Meanwhile, it appears on more than one Thai consulate website that the minimum financial requirements for Thai retirement visas is increasing. For example, on the Thai Consulate in Los Angeles‘s website it now appears that 1.2 million baht will be the requirement in a bank account to obtain a Thai O-A retirement visa. In the past, the requirement has long been 800,000 THB. Concurrently, the same website is stating 100,000 THB in pension income would also prove sufficient, where once 65,000 THB was considered adequate. After further review, the Thai Consulate in Sydney‘s website showed similar information. What precisely this means for those looking to undertake the Thai retirement visa process remains to be seen.

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