Six months to the day after Thailand first granted foreigners holding expired visas amnesty from prosecution – Sept. 26 – the reprieve will end, forcing farangs to either get legal, leave the country or fall into “overstay” status.
While many expats and “stranded” tourists have hoped, wished and pined for another amnesty extension, it’s not coming. If it were, it would have begun weeks ago with consideration by the Center for Covid-19 Situation Administration and a proposal to the Cabinet, which would have had to meet, agree and publish it in the Royal Gazette. It didn’t.
With five days left, it’s time to get legal or get out.
It’s not like there aren’t any flights. While schedules admittedly have been very volatile with many flights canceled repeatedly, timetables show airlines have set 49 flights from Bangkok to Los Angeles on Sept. 26 and 32 to London.
Still, for those who feel they are “trapped” in Thailand and cannot obtain a flight home – or those who genuinely are too ill to travel – there are options to stay.
Short-Term Visa Holders
While they’re supposedly still working on a “case by case” basis, immigration officials routinely have been granting 30-day extensions to applicants who can produce a letter from their embassy stating it is not possible to return home at this time. Applicants across the country report that the American embassy has been the easiest place to obtain such a letter with the U.K. proving a bit more challenging.
Hoping to make the process even easier, immigration offices around the country have been setting up “mobile centers” at shopping malls and other public places to take extension requests.
Additionally, Immigration Bureau Deputy Commissioner Pol. Maj. Gen. Pornchai Khuntee stated at a Sept. 3 news conference that the extensions are “unlimited”. The days of immigration refusing multiple, consecutive extensions are over, at least for now. If an applicant’s status has not changed a month from now, another extension request can be submitted, along with another embassy letter and another 1,900 baht.
Long-Term Visa Holders
The 30-day extensions are aimed at those on tourist visas, visa-exemption stamps and visas-on-arrival. Those with long-term, non-immigrant visas have a more complicated situation, but also more options.
Anyone on a three-month non-immigrant “B” or “O” visa with a one-year “extension of stay” should have, by now, applied to renew their extension with the appropriate paperwork. However, some foreigners never obtained a one-year extension, leaving their non-immigrant visa expired. Others, due to the economic downturn caused by the coronavirus pandemic, now no longer have the funds required to obtain a new extension.
Multiple-Entry Non-Immigrant ‘B’ Visas
One British expat who has been in Thailand for more than a decade has long forgone the hassle of an extension of stay and simply obtained one-year, non-renewable, multiple-entry “B” visas overseas. Those require the holder to leave the country – do a “visa run” – every three months, but as he traveled frequently, that was never a problem… until the borders closed.
Even though extensions of stay typically have not been added to multiple-entry visas, Immigration quietly has changed its policy, solving the Briton’s (and others’) problems.
Single-Entry Non-Immigrant ‘B’ Visas
For those holding expired single-entry visas, however, getting legal requires some extra work and expense. Unbeknownst to many, the first step to get legal is actually extending a non-immigrant “B” visa through Sept. 26. It’s not possible to extend a “B” visa beyond Saturday unless permission to stay through that date already was granted.
“I truly think that, especially with the non-immigrant “B” category, if you’re out of status after the amnesty ends, you could be in a situation which could prove to be beyond repair where it might not even be possible to rectify your status,” said Benjamin Hart, managing director for law firm Integrity Legal in Bangkok.
“That means one could be in overstay, which can lead to the possibility of arrest or detention as well as blacklisting and an inability to come back to Thailand thereafter,” he said.
Once the status issue is addressed, the next challenge is to renew or extend the “B” visa beyond Sept. 26, something that, according to the letter of the law, shouldn’t be possible. Again, though, the rules are proving more flexible these days.
Immigration experts said that “B” visas are, in fact, being processed without having to leave the country, although it’s unclear if the old visa is simply being extended or if an entirely new visa is being granted. In either case, however, the process requires the applicant have a “valid” work permit.
(Technically, work permits expire at the same time as visas, but immigration officials are permitting the issuance of new “B” visas provided the expiration date of the applicant’s work permit is beyond the expiration date of the original visa.)
Non-Immigrant ‘O’ Visas
Holders of non-immigrant “O” visas – typically retirement or marriage visas – should have had no problem getting renewals or extensions, unless they’re short on cash.
With Thailand’s months-long lockdown and the historic recession that has set in since, a large number of long-time expats – most with spouses and/or businesses in Thailand – cannot pass the financial test required to renew their visa or extension of stay.
For months, local immigration officers have been telling affected expats to wait before filing their applications, saying that some provision would be made for cash-strapped farangs by Sept. 15. That date has come and gone with no new directive from Bangkok.
Pol. Lt. Col. Udom Thongchin, deputy chief of the Phuket Immigration Bureau, told the Phuket News Sept. 16 that affected expats now have to scramble to get legal after the directive he expected from Immigration Bureau headquarters never materialized.
Udom said affected expats can buy themselves for time, literally, for 1,900 baht and a letter from their home embassy stating they are unable to fly home at this time. That will get them the same 30-day extension that tourists have access to and doesn’t require the applicant to disclose any information about their financial position.
Of course, it’s only 30 days and will require repeated letters and application to remain in the country. However, during that time the expat may be able to raise the funds necessary to qualify for a new “O” visa or the Immigration Bureau may revise its requirements, Udom said.
New ‘Special Tourist Visa’
What will not be an option for anyone currently in Thailand is to roll over their existing or expired visa into the new Special Tourist Visa for long-term visitors.
The just-approved visa is valid for 90 days at a time and can be renewed twice inside the country for a total 270 days of legal status.
Immigration officials have made it clear, however, that the new visa is only available overseas to new, weathly tourists who must enter the country on private jets or charter flights, stay in five-star “alternative state quarantine” resorts for at least 14 days and remain in country for at least 90 days.
That Thailand is giving such benefits only to new money – not the money that has been here supporting the country for months – has grated badly on a large number of expats, who argue the “new tourists only” provision makes no sense.