Integrity Legal

Archive for September, 2009

30th September 2009

Divorce in Thailand

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Few people wish to discuss what will happen should a marriage breakdown, but unfortunately divorce is an issue that many people confront at least once in their lifetime. With this in mind, those living in Thailand researching the issue may be surprised to learn that divorce in Thailand can be quite different when compared against divorce procedures in common law countries.

One of the major differences between divorce procedure in Thailand and divorce procedure in the United States of America is the presence of an Amphur office. The Amphur office is the civil registrar for vital information pertaining to the citizens and permanent residents of Thailand as well as foreign visitors in the Kingdom. Amphur officers are empowered with the authority to execute legally binding marriages, change names, record, births, record divorces, as well as other functions. In Thailand marriage registration usually involves a trip to the Amphur’s office to have the marriage legalized. In many divorce cases in Thailand, the converse is true for the dissolution of a marriage. Provided that there are no major disagreements between the parties, a sort of “no contest” divorce can be easily granted at the local Amphur office. However,  should the parties have any type of disagreement, then a protracted divorce proceeding must occur in the Thai court system.

An immediate issue surrounding the issuance of an Amphur divorce is: will the United States recognize the divorce as binding? Quite simply: Yes. A divorce registered at an Amphur office is considered legally binding for US purposes. This is particularly important in K1 visa cases, as a common question from prospective US Citizen petitioners is: “what do they mean my Thai fiancee must be legally free to marry?” This means that they need to be single, divorced,  or their prior spouse must be deceased. The United States government considers a Thai Divorce, granted in Thailand, valid.

Another issue ancillary to Thai divorce is that of a prenuptial agreement. Under Thai law, a prenuptial agreement must be recorded contemporaneously along with the recording of the Thai marriage. Once properly recorded, the prenuptial agreement will be the touchstone for dividing marital assets in Thailand.

In cases where a Thai divorce cannot be executed directly through the Amphur office it may be necessary to file the divorce action in the Thai courts and upon final judgment of dissolution, the couple must present the judgment to the Amphur for registration.

Another issue to think of when contemplating a Thai divorce is the issue of how one’s property will be divided post -divorce pursuant to a Thai will. For the sake of avoiding prolonged probate, it may be wise to change ones Thai will in tandem with the divorce registration.

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29th September 2009

There are many expatriates living in the Kingdom of Thailand who opt to run their own business(es). In cases where the expat is not married to a Thai national, then it is highly likely that a Thai business visa will be used in order to remain in the Kingdom long term. A somewhat tongue-in-cheek question that often arises in the context of Thai business is: why do I need to pay my taxes? Although no one actually expects to be granted some sort of tax amnesty, the fact remains that no one really relishes paying taxes. It can be even more difficult when one takes into account the fact that Thailand is predominantly a cash based economy. However, for expats basing their visa status upon small business ownership in the Kingdom, visas and taxes are inexorably linked.

Each year, each and every limited company in Thailand must submit an up-to-date balance sheet reflecting the profits and losses for the previous fiscal year. The managing director of a Thai limited company can do themselves a great disservice by failing to submit a yearly balance sheet as this can be punishable by strict sanctions and fines. Thailand, like many nations, imposes a corporate tax upon nearly all legal entities operating within the jurisdiction of the Kingdom of Thailand.  Further a corporate witholding tax is required for certain transactions.

In Thailand, the most well known method of taxation is the Value Added Tax (aka VAT). The government places a value added tax of seven percent upon most goods and services. The consequences for a business that fails to pay these taxes can be severe.

The reader is likely asking themselves: “Ok, I understand, Thailand has taxes, but how does this effect my Thai visa?” One of the major concerns of Thai Immigration officers is that those present in the Kingdom of Thailand on a business visa will use a “shell company,” in order to maintain Business visa status. In order to forestall such chicanery, Thai Immigration routinely looks at the tax records of companies that employ foreigners. This mostly occurs when the foreign national attempts to obtain a visa extension or a visa extension renewal. This type of scrutiny can also occur at the Ministry of Labour when a foreigner submits an application for an extension of his or her Thai work permit. In cases such as this, it is always better to have a good record of tax payment as this can greatly facilitate the quick issuance of a Thai visa or work permit.

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28th September 2009

United States Immigration law offers many long term benefits for the spouses and fiancees of American Citizens. One of the many questions posed by those American’s researching US Immigration from Thailand is: how does my Thai fiancee acquire United States Citizenship?

There are many misconceptions about who can naturalize as a US citizen and under what circumstances. As a rule, naturalization to US citizenship takes approximately five years, if the applicant is already in lawful permanent resident status. However, for the husband or wife of a United States Citizen, the amount of time necessary to naturalize is greatly reduced. In order for the spouse of an American citizen to naturalize, the spouse must have been in lawful permanent residence for 3 years prior to the application for naturalization. Further, the husband or wife who meets this criterion must also have been physically present in the United States for an aggregate of 18 months prior to application. For United States Immigration and naturalization purposes, half-days in the US are counted as full days when determining physical presence in the United States of America.

For those bringing a Thai fiancee into the United States on a K1 visa, the clock does not begin ticking toward naturalization until the Thai applicant successfully is approved for adjustment of status. The date noted on the adjustment of status approval is the date from which one can begin accruing presence toward ultimate naturalization. In the case of the K3 visa, even though it is a marriage visa, time in the USA does not accrue towards Citizenship until after approval of an adjustment of status application or the applicant returns to the US Embassy for processing of the underlying IR1 or CR1 visa application.

It should be noted, much like the lift of conditionality, one can, and perhaps ought to, file for naturalization ninety days before the applicant hits the three year mark for time in the US in lawful permanent residence.

There are some exceptions to the 3 years plus 18 months aggregate presence requirement. Most notable is the fact that in certain situations, a permanent resident can acquire citizenship after only one year in lawful permanent resident status if they are accompanying a United States Citizen abroad in order to work in a job related to the United States Military, Government, or other government related endeavor.

If a couple makes plans ahead of time, it may be possible for a Thai fiancee or spouse to acquire United States Citizenship in an efficient and timely manner. That being said, for those seeking US Citizenship, the road can be difficult as naturalization requires a great deal of time and effort on the part of the foreign applicant as well as an investment of resources on the part of the US Citizen spouse.

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25th September 2009

On this blog we often try to point out the difference between retaining the services of a licensed American Immigration lawyer and using a “fly by night” operator posing as a lawyer or calling himself an “Immigration Consultant.” In recent years, the United States government and various state governments have taken a firm stand by increasing their diligence in stamping out the activities of these scam artists. In a recent development a person in Virginia was arrested, charged, convicted, and sentenced for fraud based upon the fact that they stole 1 million US dollars while claiming to be a competent specialist in the field of immigration.

The scam artist in question, “was sentenced last week to 41 months in prison for defrauding vulnerable immigrant applicants of approximately $1 million from June 2000 through December 2005.”

The above linked article further noted what is seen by some as something of a new attitude in the Federal law enforcement community with regard to Immigration fraud:

“Immigration fraud poses a severe threat to national security and public safety because it creates a vulnerability that may enable terrorists, criminals, and illegal aliens to gain entry to and remain in the United States. ICE [Immigration and Customs Enforcement] uproots the infrastructure of illegal immigration by detecting and deterring immigration fraud.”

This situation further highlights the need to conduct due diligence in order to make certain that a person claiming to be an Immigration specialist is truly certified to handle United States Immigration cases. Many confused Americans often ask, “How can I ensure that my Thai fiancee and I are dealing with a reputable attorney who is licensed to practice American Immigration law?”

Even in cases where an individual claims that they are an attorney, it is always wise to ask to see a license to practice law from at least one US state or US territory. Seeing this document will provide evidence that the person one deals with is, in fact, a lawyer. Further, it might be beneficial to further inquire as to the “lawyer’s” educational background. Make certain that they not only graduated from an ABA (American Bar Association) accredited law school, but that they passed the bar in at least one state, territory, or district in the USA. Any licensed attorney should also be registered in their state’s Supreme Court database or with their state bar association.

An unfortunate fact regarding the hiring of an unlicensed “lawyer” or “consultant” is that those type of operators are not bound by any type of ethical code. Licensed attorneys must comport their behavior to an ethical standard and are therefore obligated to do no harm to their clients. This code of conduct is not imposed upon those with no license to practice law.

Unfortunately the internet has played a role in the proliferation of so-called “visa companies,” and unlicensed lawyers. With that in mind, the prospective applicants should insist upon seeing a license in order to ensure they are dealing with a reputable operator.

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24th September 2009

The question asked by many American Citizens in the United States or Expats in Thailand with a Thai Girlfriend: How do I obtain a Green Card for My Thai Fiancee? Before answering this question, the researcher needs to discern exactly what a Green Card is.

The Document commonly referred to as a “Green Card,” is in fact a term used to describe Lawful Permanent Residence in the USA. In family visa applications, there are essentially two ways of obtaining lawful permanent resident status: applying for an Immigrant visa and obtaining said status upon entry into the United States; or applying for a K1 visa, entering the United States, and applying for permanent residence through the process of adjustment of status. There are two types of lawful permanent residence: conditional lawful permanent residence and unconditional lawful permanent residence. Conditional permanent residence is reserved for those couples who either opt to adjust status in the United States or who have been married less than 2 years at the time they apply for a visa. Conditional permanent residence is conferred upon the entrant who travels to the United States on a CR1 visa. Unconditional permanent residence is conferred upon an entrant to the United States traveling on an IR1 visa.

If seeking an immigrant visa for a Thai fiancee, then the American Citizen will need to marry the Thai national before the application’s submission. In Thailand, marriage registration can be a very straightforward process provided both parties are legally free to marry. A common question with regard to Thai marriage registration: will the US recognize my Thai marriage to my thai fiancee? In short: yes. The United States recognizes the legality and binding effect of a legally sanctified matrimonial union executed in the Kingdom of Thailand provided that it is registered at the local Amphur office.

What about bringing my Thai fiancee to the United States on a K1 visa? This is an option pursued by many Thai-American couples as it is generally the fastest method of getting a Thai fiancee into the United States. The only real downside of the K1 visa is the fact that it requires a post-marital adjustment of status.

Where the fiancee enters and adjusts or marries abroad and enters on an Immigrant visa, if she decides to travel abroad subsequent to acquiring permanent resident status, then she may be wise in obtaining a reentry permit so that a presumption of residential abandonment does not arise. Those who have acquired a US reentry permit are free to remain abroad for up to 2 years without raising the suspicion that they are not ever returing to the United States.

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22nd September 2009

The plight of many Burmese (Myanmar Nationals) living in Thailand is a sad one as many are not in any type of legal status or are simply refugees who cannot return to their home country. In a recent article, their situation was brought into sharp focus by the Thai media…and it was all due to a paper airplane. To quote the Canadian Press:

“A boy with no official nationality who lives in Thailand captured third place in a Japanese paper airplane contest Sunday after his tearful pleas to be allowed to attend prompted authorities to grant him a rare temporary passport for the event.”

It is truly inspirational when Thai people become upset due to a social injustice, because things tend to get done. Temporary passports have never been easily obtainable for people of any nationality living in Thailand, but in the case of those originally from Myanmar a request for an official travel document from the Thai government is often dismissed out of hand. The above article went further in discussing this particular situation:

“Mong’s ethnic Shan parents have only temporary permission to live and work in Thailand, so although he was born in the country he has only temporary resident status. Under normal circumstances, if he left and tried to return, his status would be revoked and he would be barred re-entry to the country where he was born.When his initial application for temporary exit papers was denied, the story dominated the front pages of Thai newspapers, and a national lawyers’ council petitioned the court on his behalf.”

Kudos to the Thai National Lawyers Council for taking up the cause of this young man. Asylees and refugees tend to have the most trouble obtaining legal documentation, particularly for travel. This article highlighted this fact and hopefully the plight of the Burmese in Thailand will be in the future thoughts of those in government positions.

It is interesting to note that this child’s family had not obtained Thai Permanent Residence. If that had been the case they may have been eligible for a Reentry Permit. Many Burmese from the Shan States of Myanmar live and work in Thailand illegally. There are certain parallels between these migrant workers and the undocumented Mexicans who enter the United States in order to work and live. Many of these people come from difficult environments in their home countries and they seek economic opportunities in Thailand or America. Although it is certainly a legal necessity to obtain proper documentation, the fact is that many people in dire circumstances do not have the time or the resources to go through the proper channels. A little bit of “give” on the part of the government can be beneficial in extenuating circumstances.

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21st September 2009

It is interesting to discuss recent changes in Thai Immigration rules with the so-called “old timers” or “old Thailand hands” because they can remember far simpler times when Thai Immigration rules were far less byzantine and self-contradictory. That being said, Thailand was also a far less hospitable place in the past and a by-product of Thailand’s overall economic expansion has been a tightening of Thai Immigration regulations.

At one time, immediately following the second world war any entrant into the Kingdom was immediately accorded immigrant status which today would be known as Thai Permanent Residence. Although not Thai Citizens, Immigrant in the Kingdom were accorded a great many legal rights and privileges.

As time passed, a new immigration category was added: Non-immigrant. This category was initially intended for obvious tourists and other persons present in the Kingdom with non-immigrant intent. At this point it was still relatively easy to acquire permanent resident status in the Kingdom of Thailand. A visa holder classified as non-immigrant could generally convert their visa to the immigrant visa category within a few weeks and legally take up permanent residence (a process called adjustment of status in present USA visa parlance).

In the early to middle nineteen seventies, the sub-stratification of the non-immigrant visa category began. Within the non-immigrant visa category, the entrant was deemed to be in the Kingdom for a certain purpose. As a result there were Thai tourist visas, Thai business visas, Thai O visas, etc. Also, at this time, Thai Permanent Residence became extremely difficult to obtain when compared to the ease with which it could have been acquired in the past. Quotas were set regarding the number of applications that would be accepted for applicants of differing nationality.  An applicant was also required to remain in the Kingdom for at least three consecutive legally unbroken years before an application for residence would be accepted.

It is also interesting to hear about times past because the Thai work permit was originally not an issue. For a long time, it was not necessary for a foreign national in Thailand to obtain a work permit in order to be employed in the Kingdom. In the nineteen seventies, this situation changed and any non-Thai national was compelled to acquire a work permit to be employed in Thailand. Originally, many people were granted lifetime work permits. In other cases, the work permit itself had to be renewed but the particulars of the permit were not reviewable. This meant that although one had to maintain the necessary fees, the Ministry of Labour could not cancel the permit for any reason other than failure to pay the administrative fee. All of this is very different than the system today where Thai work permits are constantly renewable and visa regulations seem to change with the wind.

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20th September 2009

US Visa Thailand: The E2 Visa

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The E2 visa is a special non-immigrant visa available to prospective investors who are also citizens of countries with a trade or commercial treaty with the United States of America. Citizens of the Kingdom of Thailand can apply for E2 visa status as the United States and the Kingdom of Thailand, at the time of this writing, maintain a Treaty of Amity and Commerce.

In order to qualify for an E2 visa the applicant must invest a “substantial amount” of money into the American economy in the form of a business venture. Although not specifically defined in the statutes or treaties, the term “substantial amount” has been largely left to be determined by the Consular officers posted at the US Embassy or Consulate where the visa application is being submitted. Although information regarding the necessary amount of money varies, a minimum investment of at least one hundred thousand dollars should be available for investment before a prospective applicant should contemplate submitting an application. That being said, the investment will be viewed in relation to the overall enterprise. As a result, a one hundred thousand dollar investment may be viewed as substantial if one is setting up a small restaurant in a region with a relatively low cost of living. However, that same amount of money will probably not be viewed as “substantial” if one is seeking to undertake the construction of a shopping mall in a heavily urban area. The United States Citizenship and Immigration Service utilizes an ‘Inverted Sliding Scale’ in order to make determinations as to whether or not the underlying investment should be considered “substantial” in relation to the total cost of the economic endeavor.

Another issue that must be considered when discussing the E2 visa is the fact that the business investment ought to create employment opportunities for American Citizens. Although it is probably more desirable to hire American workers before the submission of the E2 application. Providing evidence that employment opportunities will come about in the reasonably foreseeable  future is usually sufficient for approval of at least the initial application.
Another visa category that is generally of interest to those researching the E2 is the L1 visa. The L1 visa is a non-immigrant visa category that employs the dual intent doctrine to allow foreign employees of an international company to transfer to a US-based affiliate for the purpose of carrying out business activity in the United States. In some cases, an already established foreign corporation will wish to establish a presence in the United States. In order to staff the new company, foreign managers and executives will need travel documents to travel and work in the United States.

For related information please see our page on the establishment of an Amity Treaty Company

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18th September 2009

In a recent report published by the Immigration Policy Center, the issues surrounding United States Immigration and its demographic impact were discussed. To quote an email sent out by the Center, the demographics of Immigrant’s in the United States is somewhat surprising:

“Roughly one-in-seventeen U.S. citizens are foreign-born, and tens of millions of native-born U.S. citizens have immigrant parents. This demographic reality has important political ramifications. A rising share of the U.S. electorate has a direct personal connection to the immigrant experience, and is unlikely to be favorably swayed by politicians who employ anti-immigrant rhetoric to mobilize supporters.”

The fact is: were it not for the influx of immigrants to the United States, the “birth dearth” being experienced in other western countries would be highly prevalent in the United States of America. Immigrants add a great deal to the American economy as well as the societal structure as they compensate for the aging American population. Systems such as social security and Medicare would be in far greater peril were there to be no influx of foreign immigrants traveling to America on a USA visa in order to live and work.

In the same email, there were some compelling statistics regarding immigrant populations in the United States:

“There were 38.1 million immigrants living in the United States as of 2007, of whom 42.5% were naturalized U.S. citizens.

The number of naturalized U.S. citizens increased from 8 million in 1990, to 12.5 million in 2000, to 16.2 million in 2007.

There were 45.5 million Latinos in the United States in 2007, of whom 11.2% were naturalized U.S. citizens and 60.2% were native-born U.S. citizens.

There were 13.3 million Asians living in the United States as of 2007, of whom 37.7 % were naturalized U.S. citizens and 31.8% were native-born U.S. citizens.”

Of particular interest for this author is the final statistic regarding people of Asian descent. As a law firm in Bangkok that primarily handles United States Immigration for Thai fiancees and spouses of US Citizens, this statistic truly hit home. The K1 visa, the K3 visa, and the CR1 visa applications are processed at the US Embassy in Bangkok, Thailand. We see many happy couples using the American Immigration system in order to reunite with their US Citizen loved ones. Many of these immigrants proceed to adjust their status and remain with their American loved one long term. Some proceed further and complete the naturalization process. In many cases, children are born from these happy unions. In all, America is fueled by Immigration as it is a nation of immigrants. As time passes hopefully the American government will keep this in mind when creating new legislation which impacts the Immigration process.

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17th September 2009

Congress is set to end their recess soon and one of the important issues that will be on the legislative agenda is Comprehensive Immigration Reform. In the last Congressional session, this important legislation was sidelined by other important issues such as Health Care Reform and issues the impact of Americans upon the environment. To quote Immigration Impact: Comprehensive Immigration Reform (CIR), “has grown increasingly complex, partisan, and ideological, the chances of completing CIR legislation before 2009 ends further diminish. That’s not to say, however, that nothing is happening.”

One of the major obstacles in getting a Comprehensive Immigration Reform bill through Congress is the fact that it is, well…so…Comprehensive. What I mean to say is: Comprehensive Immigration Reform would require a complete overhaul of the Immigration system which impacts many political factions and such an overhaul is bound to have detractors and proponents of each facet effected.

For example, in the realm of United States Family immigration, there are some who believe that the minimum 6 to 7 month wait to bring a foreign fiancee or spouse to the United States is far too much time to wait. One proposed solution to this problem is: allowing non-immigrant dual intent family visa to be filed directly at the Embassy or Consulate overseas. The K1 visa and the K3 visa are dual intent non-immigrant visas which means that the visa holder can intend to both go to the US temporarily and simultaneously have the intent to remain long term.  Those entering the United States on one of these visas will eventually need to adjust status to permanent residence. At that time, the officers at the United States Citizenship and Immigration Service will adjudicate whether or not the applicant should be accorded lawful permanent resident status. The current Immigration situation begs the question: how does pre-authorizing K1 and K3 non-immigrants add value to the US Immigration Process? The system, at the very least, seems redundant.

A likely result of Comprehensive Immigration Reform will be a large backlog of cases involving undocumented aliens in the United States of America. The current resources used to pre-authorize K1 and K3 visas could be rediverted to adjudicating cases of undocumented aliens while those seeking K1 and K3 visas could begin filing directly with the United States Consular posts abroad. The argument that preapproval is necessary for Immigrant visas (such as the IR1 and CR1 visa) rings a bit more true since those entering the United States on this visa receive permanent residence upon entry.

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