Integrity Legal

Archive for November, 2009

20th November 2009

Unfortunately Thailand is a breeding ground for disreputable firms offering drafting services for a Thai prenuptial agreement. One of the telltale signs of such an operation is a so-called American “lawyer,” offering an American Prenuptial agreement for Thai fiancees. The first thing one ought to do when dealing with anyone claiming to be an attorney: ask for their credentials. An actual licensed attorney from the United States should be able to produce a bar card, supreme court license, or US Federal license to practice law.

That being said, there are further issues to remember when drafting a prenuptial agreement. One major formality should be adhered to when creating a prenuptial agreement and failure to adhere to this formality can severely damage a prenuptial agreement’s later enforceability. This important formality is a review with an independent attorney.

A prenuptial agreement, like many legal contracts, requires that all parties understand the agreement at the time that they sign it. In cases where the agreement is with a Thai fiancee, it is wise to have both a Thai version of the agreement and an independent attorney who can review the agreement with the fiancee so that she understands all aspects of the agreement and all of the legal rights and benefits that she is both acquiring and relinquishing by signing the agreement. Having the agreement drawn up by an unlicensed attorney runs the risk of having its provisions later thrown out due to poor draftsmanship. Further, failure to have an independent attorney review the document with the Thai fiancee could result in a court finding that the provisions of the agreement should not be followed because the Thai fiancee did not understand what she was signing when she signed it.

For these reasons, it is highly advisable to retain a licensed attorney to draft a prenuptial agreement in both Thai and English. A legitimate attorney can then refer the Thai fiancee to another licensed independent attorney who can provide an accurate and impartial assessment of the agreement as well as answer any questions that the Thai fiancee might have.

Some couples opt to have their signatures notarized and in Thailand an attorney will likely have access to a Thai notary. If the couple plans to sign the agreement in the United States, then it would be wise to retain the services of a notary in the state where the agreement is signed. A notary must actually witness the signatures of both parties. At American Citizen Services at the US Embassy in Bangkok the consular officers can provide notary services. Although a Thai notary is valid if the agreement is signed in Thailand.

For more information, please see Thailand Prenup.

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19th November 2009

Although not a major topic on this blog, the visa run is an issue for many expatriates, or expats, in Thailand. There was a time when remaining in Thailand for a virtually indefinite period of time simply required a “visa run” or “border run,” once every thirty days. However, Thai Immigration regulations have been in a state of flux for approximately 5-10 years and one of the biggest changes was the end of the infinite 3o day visa exemption. Today, a foreigner will usually only receive a 15 day visa exemption at a land border in Thailand. This is unhelpful for those wishing to remain in Thailand for a long period of time as Thai Immigration officials require at least 21 days of lawful status to convert a Thai visa or extend a Thai visa.

The border run or “visa run” is still important for many as it is still required of one in the Kingdom on a long term multiple entry Thai visa.  A one year multiple entry visa for Thailand provides the bearer with 90 days of lawful status per entry. In the case of the Thai business visa, business travelers often leave Thailand before their duration of stay has ended. However, in cases where the traveler must remain past 90 days he or she will need to leave the country and be stamped back in at a port of entry.

A common method of fulfilling this Thai Immigration requirement is through use of a land border. A very popular “border run” or “visa run” destination for those residing in Bangkok is Cambodia. Although currently their are some tensions with Cambodia that threaten to close the Cambodia border. At present, it would appear that the border will remain open. That being said, another issue arises. Namely, does one need a visa to enter Cambodia on their “visa run?” For most passport holders the answer to this question is: Yes. With the exception of ASEAN nations, most foreign passport holders need a visa to enter Cambodia. Currently the price of a Cambodian visa is $20 although this price could change.

Some border runners and visa runners opt to travel to other countries near Thailand as a method of fulfilling Thai Immigration requirements. Popular destinations are Burma (Myanmar), Laos, and Malaysia. Currently, Malaysia has a visa waiver program for most passport holders while Burma (Myanmar) requires a visa for those from nearly every nation. A Burmese visa can be obtained at the Myanmar Embassy in Bangkok. As to Laos, a visa exemption or visa on arrival is granted to most entrants when they are admitted to Laos at a port of entry.

Some opt to do their “visa run” using an airport. In this situation the visa runner needs to leave Thailand by plane and be stamped back into the Kingdom upon return. Malaysia has become a popular destination as the Royal Thai Embassy in Kuala Lumpur is popular for short term Thai visa applications.

Thailand visa rules can act as an inconvenience to many foreigners in Thailand, but through research on the current Immigration laws one can make the process as hassle-free as possible.

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17th November 2009

As more and more Thais marry foreign nationals the Thai diaspora grows. Many Thai-American couples immigrate to the United States of America using either a fiance visa such as a K1 visa or a marriage visa like a K3 visa or CR1 visa. When these couples have children a few questions arise. First, what is the child’s nationality? Second, is the child entitled to dual nationality. Third, if entitled to a Thai passport how do we go about obtaining one? This is where the Thai Consular Report of Birth Abroad comes into play.

It should be noted that a child born to a Thai mother overseas is born with Thai nationality. A child born to a Thai father abroad is probably Thai although there are some restrictions in the Thai Nationality act. For our purposes we will assume the child is born with Thai nationality.

In order for a Thai national who was born abroad to obtain a Thai passport a Consular Report of Birth Abroad must be obtained by the foreign born Thai. This report of birth abroad is similar to the US Consular Report of Birth Abroad in that it provides proof that the child was born to a Citizen of the Kingdom of Thailand. Pursuant to relevant sections of Thai nationality law, the child of a Thai Citizen is Thai. Therefore, once a report of birth abroad is issued a Thai passport can be acquired.

Some are under the mistaken impression that Thais and Americans cannot have dual nationality. This is not true. There is no provision under Thai law prohibiting dual nationality. Further, United States nationality law does not prohibit dual nationality. The major issue for dual nationals concerns their two home countries. A Thai-American with dual nationality is considered exclusively an American citizen when in the United States of America (or one of its protectorates, possessions, or territories) and exclusively a Thai citizen when in the Kingdom of Thailand.

There can be a great many problems that can arise if one fails to obtain a Thai Consular Report of Birth Abroad on behalf of one’s child. This is particularly true if the child later wishes to reside in Thailand with the same benefits as other Thai citizens. Proving Thai citizenship from birth can be difficult if there has been a long period of time between the child’s birth and subsequent application for a Consular Report of Birth Abroad. There can be particularly daunting problems if the Thai national is a boy because there are military draft requirements for male Thais. If one does not fulfill their draft obligations and subsequently wishes to obtain a Thai passport the bureaucratic difficulties could be legion. Therefore, it may be wise to retain the advice of a Thai attorney or law firm if a man wishes to sort out his Thai nationality after missing his draft year.

A Consular Report of Birth Abroad can be issued at a Thai Embassy or Consulate in the country where the Thai was born. The Thai posts have a section similar to the  American Citizen Services section at a US Embassy which handles Reports of Birth Abroad.

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16th November 2009

Each year, thousands of American Citizens travel to the Kingdom of Thailand as tourists, business travelers, investors, students, or to visit family in Thailand. In some situations an American Citizen needs something that must be officially issued by an organ of the government of the United States of America. In most cases, the US Citizen can get the official documentation from the American Citizen Services section of the United States Embassy in Bangkok, Thailand. There was a time when many complained about the service at American Citizen Services (also known as ACS), but today this section is very efficient and staffed by very polite service oriented officers.

Of the many things that American Citizen Services does, one of the most important functions is passport issuance. For those that are interested in obtaining a new American passport while in Thailand, it would be wise to contact ACS as they can facilitate passport issuance. For those who have lost a passport in Thailand or had their passport stolen, it is best to report the theft to the police and then proceed to the American Citizen Services section to obtain a new passport.

It should be noted that it may be possible in limited cases for American Citizens to receive a second passport from ACS. Second passports are rarely issued, but for certain travelers a second passport may be a necessity. Therefore, American Citizen Services and the Department of State may grant a second passport to worthy applicants.

Those that need an American notary can go to the American Citizen Services section because the Consular Officers can notarize documentation for official purposes. Please note that there is a charge for this service and one should check the US Embassy website for an updated fee quotation.

Those getting a Thai drivers license may need to go to American Citizen Services as it may be necessary to fill out an affidavit regarding one’s residence. The same can be said for one who wishes to register a marriage in Thailand as a trip to American Citizen Services may be required.

Some are under the mistaken impression that American Citizen Services has a hand in the Amity Treaty certification process for a Thai Company. This is not necessarily true as the American Citizen Services Section generally does not have any direct involvement in this process except for possible notarizations.

American Citizen Services does not generally deal with US visa matters. Although they do assist in producing a document called a Consular Report of Birth Abroad which can be used for obtaining a US passport on behalf of a child of an American Citizen.  The US Consulate in Chiang Mai also has an American Citizen Services section. It fulfills functions similar to its counterpart in Bangkok.

For those interested in visiting ACS it may be advisable to schedule an appointment in advance via their online appointment scheduling service. To learn more visit the ACS webpage here.

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15th November 2009

In previous posts on this blog we have provided information regarding the updated processing time estimates for K1 visa applications, K3 visa applications, and CR1 visa applications. This is simply an update as to the processing times at the time of this writing. For more information please see other posts on this blog or the website of the United States Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS). To go to the USCIS website directly, please click here.

That being said, the following are the processing times for the USCIS Service Center in California. Please note that the I-131 application is for an advance parole travel document.

I-129F Petition for Alien Fiance(e) K-1/K-2 – Not yet married – fiance and/or dependent child 5 Months
I-129F Petition for Alien Fiance(e) K-3/K-4 – Already married – spouse and/or dependent child 5 Months
I-130 Petition for Alien Relative U.S. citizen filing for a spouse, parent, or child under 21 5 Months
I-130 Petition for Alien Relative U.S. citizen filing for an unmarried son or daughter over 21 July 22, 2004
I-130 Petition for Alien Relative U.S. citizen filing for a married son or daughter over 21 January 15, 2002
I-130 Petition for Alien Relative U.S. citizen filing for a brother or sister April 15, 2000
I-130 Petition for Alien Relative Permanent resident filling for a spouse or child under 21 June 01, 2006
I-130 Petition for Alien Relative Permanent resident filling for an unmarried son or daughter over 21 August 22, 2002
I-131 Application for Travel Document All other applicants for advance parole 3 Months

These are the estimated processing times for the USCIS Service Center in Vermont. Please note that the I-131 application is for an advance parole travel document

I-129F Petition for Alien Fiance(e) K-1/K-2 – Not yet married – fiance and/or dependent child 5 Months
I-129F Petition for Alien Fiance(e) K-3/K-4 – Already married – spouse and/or dependent child 5 Months
I-130 Petition for Alien Relative U.S. citizen filing for a spouse, parent, or child under 21 5 Months
I-130 Petition for Alien Relative U.S. citizen filing for an unmarried son or daughter over 21 July 02, 2006
I-130 Petition for Alien Relative U.S. citizen filing for a married son or daughter over 21 June 04, 2006
I-130 Petition for Alien Relative U.S. citizen filing for a brother or sister September 19, 2005
I-130 Petition for Alien Relative Permanent resident filling for a spouse or child under 21 January 18, 2006
I-130 Petition for Alien Relative Permanent resident filling for an unmarried son or daughter over 21 June 04, 2006
I-131 Application for Travel Document All other applicants for advance parole 3 Months

Always remember that USCIS Processing times are estimates only as each and every case is unique and therefore determining the processing time of one particular case can be very difficult.

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14th November 2009

In a previous post on this blog we discussed how the Center for Disease Control, in conjunction with the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the United States Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS), is in the process of taking HIV off of the list of diseases that will bar entry into the USA. Recently, it has come to this author’s attention that the vaccine for the Human Papillomavirus (HPV) will no longer be a requirement for those seeking to immigrate to the United States of America. Under the current regulations, it is required that all applicants seeking an Immigrant visa, or a non-immigrant dual intent visa such as a K1 visa or K3 visa, are required to be vaccinated against HPV if they are under the age of 26 at the time of application. This requirement can lead to considerable expense for those wishing to obtain United States Immigration benefits.

The American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA), recently released information from the Final Notice on Criteria for Vaccination Requirements, the follow are excerpts from that notice:

“On April 8, 2009, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) published a notice in the Federal Register (74 FR 15986) seeking public comment on proposed criteria that CDC intends to use to determine which vaccines recommended by the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) for the general U.S. population should be required for immigrants seeking admission into the United States or seeking adjustment of status to that of an alien lawfully admitted for permanent residence. This final notice describes the criteria that CDC has adopted.”

The notice goes on to discuss the criteria that the CDC and US Immigration officials use to determine whether or not intending immigrants should be required to get a vaccination. After a detailed analysis of the guidelines, policy, and regulations the report concludes:

“Therefore, because HPV does not meet the adopted criteria, it will not be a required vaccine for immigrant and adjustment of status to permanent residence applicants.”

The proposed rule will likely be effective early in 2010. However, it should be noted that until the rule is finalized the current rules and regulations still stand. Therefore, those intending immigrant being interviewed at the time of this writing must still get the required HPV vaccination if they are under the prescribed age. Currently, this is not a requirement for tourist visas, student visas, and exchange visitor visas as such travel documents are classified as non-immigrant. Even though the K1 fiance visa and K3 marriage visa are technically non-immigrant visas they are treated as immigrant visas for the purposes of the aforementioned rule because these visas allow for dual non-immigrant and immigrant intent.

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13th November 2009

In a previous post the issue of the G-28 Notice of Attorney Appearance was discussed. The United States Citizenship and Immigration Service had changed the form in order to update its contents to more accurately convey information regarding the exact nature of an attorney’s representation of a client before the various agencies under the jurisdiction of the Department of Homeland Security. Recently, this author has learned through the American Immigration Lawyers Association that USCIS will continue to accept the old form and will not reject an application simply for utilizing the previous form. To quote USCIS through AILA:

“U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) announced today that the previous version of the Notice of Entry of Appearance as Attorney or Representative (Form G-28) will be accepted until further notice… On Oct. 1, 2009, USCIS announced the publication of a new Form G-28 and provided a 30-day grace period, until Oct. 30, for accepting previous versions at the USCIS Lockbox facilities or USCIS Service Centers. USCIS encourages attorneys and accredited representatives to use the new Form G-28, however, USCIS will not reject filings of the previous Form G-28 version until further notice. This will allow law students who represent immigrants to use the previous form until changes can be made to the form to accommodate their unique situation.”

As stated previously, the submission of a G-28 puts the United States government (in the form of the Department of Homeland Security, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Cutoms and Border Protection, and the United States Citizenship and Immigration Service) on notice that an attorney has officially entered their appearance in the case.

Also a G-28 is an effective way of determining if one is dealing with an actual attorney or simply working with a “visa company,” “visa agency,” or phony unlicensed “lawyer.” Unless the government is willing to correspond directly with one’s attorney it may be wise to seek representation elsewhere because this is an integral component of the Immigration attorney-client relationship.

Each and every US Embassy or US Consulate is under the jurisdiction of the US Department of State and not the Department of Homland Security. Therefore, a G-28 has no bearing on these organs of government, but the US Embassy will correspond with an attorney in matters pertaining to a visa application if the attorney is licensed to practice in the USA. That being said, generally the Embassies and Consulates will not deal with unlicensed so-called “lawyers,” and as a result, such an individual can be of little assistance in processing US visa applications.

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12th November 2009

For many people living in Thailand, the prospect of owning property would be considered highly beneficial. Unfortunately, Thai law places great restrictions upon foreign nationals who wish to purchase property. That being said, no such restrictions are placed upon those who wish to lease Thai real estate.

In Thailand, the Civil and Commercial Code provides for leases of varying lengths of time. A lease’s enforceability is based, in part, upon the length of the lease. For example, a common misconception among many foreigners is based upon the idea that a lease can be unrecorded and enforceable for a period exceeding 3 years. However, this is not the case as parties to a Thai lease exceeding 3 years must record the instrument upon the Chanote (Title Deed) in order for a subsequent court to enforce the provisions agreed therein.

In Thailand, the longest lease that one can practically obtain has a duration of 30 years. A novel approach to acquiring what amounts to a longer lease would utilize multiple 30 year leases in which the date of lease commencement coincides with the end of the prior lease. For example, one could acquire a 30 year Thai lease that begins in 2010. Then acquire another 30 year lease to the same property, only this lease does not come into effect until the day after the prior 30 year lease is expired in 2040. As a result of these efforts, the leasee would effectively have a lease that runs for sixty years, but in reality, the applicable Thai laws have been adhered to because the 60 year lease period is the product of two legal leases each for no more than 30 years.

Although this type of legal configuration may be possible in theory, these types of staggered lease agreements, like any legal construct in Thailand, may not be practically feasible as the officers at the Thai land department may not accept the documentation and thereby could preclude this legal instrument from being recorded on the Chanote. Each Thai land office interprets the rules and laws differently. Therefore, retaining experienced counsel in the form of a Thai attorney to assist in recording leases and other property instruments may be beneficial to a foreigner in Thailand as the attorney could assist in facilitating the recordation of a rarely seen legal instrument.

Another issue that may be of interest to foreigners is the use of a Thai usufruct. A usufruct allows a foreigner to retain lifetime rights of use in the underlying Thailand property. Therefore, this type of instrument can act as a sort of “lifetime Thai lease,” as the beneficiary of the usufruct could use the Thai property until his or her death. It should also be noted that different rules apply to those looking to purchase a Thai condo because it may be possible for a Foreign national to purchase a Thai Condo in freehold.

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11th November 2009

There are many people throughout the United States who seem more and more unhappy with the current state of gay rights issues. This unhappiness seems particularly acute when discussing the issue of DOMA (the Defense of Marriage Act). Under current United States Federal law same sex marriages are not recognized by the Federal Government. Therefore, United States Immigration benefits based upon marriage cannot be extended to the same-sex partners of US citizens as same sex marriage is not recognized as a “marriage” for purposes of US Immigration.

Many have advocated either the repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act or the enactment of some federal legislation which would allow for same sex immigration benefits notwithstanding DOMA. A recent example of the latter is the Uniting American Families Act (UAFA) which would provide US Immigration benefits to “permanent partners” of US Citizens and Lawful Permanent Residents. Most efforts to provide same sex immigration benefits have been in vain which has created frustration in the LGBT community as well as amongst advocates for civil rights.

In recent months there has been talk of repealing the “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” policy in the US military. Also, the US State Department has issued internal rules granting Immigration benefits, in the form of diplomatic and official passports, to the same sex partners of State Department employees working abroad. Many feel that these are “half measures,” simply designed to placate advocates for LGBT rights.  The following, quoted from this source, sums up the feeling of consternation:

Noticeably absent from this civil rights agenda is the repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act. Apparently a Democratic majority in the House, a Democratic super-majority in the Senate, and a Democratic president in the White House isn’t quite enough to get a repeal passed. Of course, other major issues are confronting the nation, and issues dealing with same-sex marriage often bring with them volatile politics. But, with the prospect of trimmed Democratic majorities in Congress after the 2010 midterm elections, is it really unreasonable for the LGBT community to expect action on DOMA now, as opposed to potentially a decade from now, maybe later? [Emphasis in original]

As can be seen from the above quote, the real issue for many is the repeal of DOMA. This legislation lies at the heart of most legal restrictions placed upon same-sex couples in the United States. Currently, the legality of DOMA is also being weighed in the US Federal Courts, but the outcome is far from certain. The repeal of DOMA is likely to remain a controversial issue in the future. A repeal of these restrictions will likely mark a watershed moment for American Civil Liberties.

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10th November 2009

A common question asked by many foreign men in Thailand: does the law require that I pay a sinsot (also known as a sinsod, sin sot, sin sod, or in Thai: สินสอด) prior to marriage? The short answer to this question: No. However, an explanation of the cultural importance of the Sinsot may be beneficial in understanding both Thai marriage custom and the cultural underpinnings of marriage in the Kingdom of Thailand.

A Sinsot can best be described as a dowry given by a Thai (or foreign) man to a Thai lady prior to marriage. Generally, the groom-to-be will negotiate with his future father-in-law, or some surrogate if the Thai fiancee’s father is unavailable, regarding the amount of the dowry. In many Thai weddings, the Sinsot is put on display at the wedding ceremony, often the Sinsot will include jewelery or other items of value. In some cases, the parents keep the Sinsot. While in other families it is given to the daughter as a kind of insurance in the event a marital dissolution should occur. In still other situations, the Sinsot is returned to the groom after the wedding ceremony is at an end. Finally, it should be noted that some Thai families do not uphold the Sinsot tradition.

Some have argued that the Sinsot tradition is not deeply embedded in Thai culture, but is simply an effort by Thai in-laws to get money out of a foreign husband. This author cannot speak to that assertion, but the fact remains that in some cases Thai fiances will transfer a Sinot to a Thai fiancee’s family.

Under Thai law, there is no legal requirement that a Sinsot be transferred before a marriage can be registered. A couple can register a marriage at a local Amphur office (Civil Registry) by simply showing up and providing the proper documentation.

However, the practice of remitting a Sinsot seems to be a major aspect of the Thai customary wedding ceremony. Thai people will often have a marriage ceremony without getting the marriage registered. As Thailand does not specifically recognize anything akin to a common law marriage, it is possible that a foreign fiance could pay a Sinsot without legally marrying the Thai fiancee. In many cases involving American fiances marrying Thais, a customary wedding ceremony is often performed without registering the marriage. This allows the couple to remain legally single and therefore eligible to apply for a K1 visa, which is a fiance visa used to travel to the USA for the purpose of executing a legally binding marriage.

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