Integrity Legal

31st October 2010

In recent weeks there seems to have been some confusion related to the issue of overstaying one’s visa in Thailand. It would appear that there was a certain amount of consternation being created as a result of postings on the internet discussing Thai Immigration policies regarding overstay. Apparently, Thai Immigration authorities are heavily scrutinizing departing foreigners’ visas to ensure that those leaving the Kingdom of Thailand remained in lawful status for the duration of their stay and those not in lawful status at the time of departure must face legal consequences in the form of fines and possible incarceration. Penalties for overstay in Thailand have always been prescribed by relevant Thai Immigration law, but confusion seems to have arisen as a result of a posting on the internet stating that Thai Immigration procedures would be changing. However, the Phuket Gazette website phuketgazette.net subsequently reported that such speculation was incorrect. To quote directly from the Phuket Gazette:

Col Panuwat today told the Gazette, “I contacted the legal department at Immigration Bureau Headquarters on Soi Suan Plu in Bangkok, the Phuket Airport Immigration Superintendent and other authorities as well.”

“All have assured me that they are still following all the terms of the Immigration Act 1979, enacted on February 29 that year,” he said.

Under the Act, “any alien who stays in the Kingdom without permission, or with permission expired or revoked, shall be punished with imprisonment not exceeding two years, or a fine not exceeding 20,000 baht, or both.”

Penalties for Immigration violators can be rather severe, but in many cases individuals find that they have overstayed their visa by a matter of days. In a situation similar to this it is reasonable to believe that Immigration officers are unlikely to impose more than a fine on the offending party as they depart Thailand of their own accord. However, as the duration of one’s unlawful presence increases so too could one assume that the potential penalties might increase as well. Bearing that in mind, those pondering the overstay issue are wise to note that Royal Thai Immigration Officers have significant discretion in matters involving visas, admission to Thailand, and overstay in Thailand. As the aforementioned posting went on to note:

The Phuket Gazette notes that Immigration officers at checkpoints have always had complete discretion on what punitive measures to take with overstays, as specified above.

They can also deny entry to anyone arriving at a border checkpoint for any reason, even if the person arriving is in possession of a valid visa.

In the United States, Immigration matters are generally dealt with under Congressional plenary power and Immigration officers at the United States Customs and Border Protection Service (USCBP) are empowered with the authority to place prospective entrants into expedited removal proceedings or to simply deny a foreign national, even if said individual has a valid visa, admission to the USA. Thailand’s immigration rules are different from those of the United States, but one thing remains constant: Immigration Officers at any checkpoint throughout Thailand retain a great deal of discretion in matters pertaining to overstay under Thai law. Therefore, foreign nationals in Thailand should expect for overstay matters to be handled on a cases by case basis as each case is unique and no one has a right to remain in the Kingdom of Thailand without being in lawful status.

For related information please see: Thailand visa or I-601 waiver.


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