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Thailand Extends Visa Amnesty 2 Months

AMNESTY APPROVED

Updated 6:30 p.m. – Thailand’s Cabinet on Tuesday approved a nearly two-month extension of the ongoing visa amnesty, allowing foreigners remaining in the country to remain until Sept. 26.

Minutes of Tuesday’s meetings showed top officials rejected a suggestion that amnesty be allowed to expire on July 31 and instead replaced with a “grace period” to allow foreigner to apply for special visa extensions, which would only be granted on a case-by-case basis.

Ministers agreed that Thailand’s coronavirus situation had improved to the point that allowing foreigners to remain on “temporary visa exemption” would do no harm to the country.

In effect, after weeks of anxiety and conflicting reports, nothing has changed. No one needs to go to an Immigration Bureau office to extend, no embassy letters are needed, no one needs to do 90-day reports and no one will be fined or prosecuted for overstaying their expired visas.

The Bangkok Herald first reported July 16 that a two-month amnesty extension would be proposed. But, a day later, Immigration Commissioner Sompong Chingduong told the Reuters news agency that a “grace period” to apply for new visas would replace the broad amnesty.

Under that scheme, foreigners would be given until Sept. 26 to apply for special 30-day visa extensions, with anyone not applying by that date subject to fines and arrest.

However, Sompong’s caveats that the extensions would be granted on a “case by case” basis fueled uncertainty over how the program would work and if it actually would serve any purpose. It certainly would not have alleviated large crowds of foreigners converging on immigration offices, something the government is desperate to avoid.

In effect, after weeks of anxiety and conflicting reports, nothing has changed. No one needs to go to an Immigration Bureau office to extend, no embassy letters are needed, no one needs to do 90-day reports and no one will be fined or prosecuted for overstaying their expired visas.

As news broke of the Cabinet’s decision Tuesday, the grace period concept was not mentioned. However, this is still a developing story and the amnesty will not become official until it is published in the Royal Gazette.

If indeed a blanket amnesty has won out over the grace period, it likely was due to recent events inside Thailand that sparked fears of renewed local transmission of the coronavirus after 57 days of no cases reported.

The fact that countries around the world – including several Thailand had environed forming travel bubbles with – have seen new surges of virus outbreaks likely also contributed to the decision.

While it would be relatively easy for Thailand to “clear out” pure tourists, as the Immigration Bureau’s spokesman coarsely phrased it to reporters earlier this month, going home was not a viable option for the tens of thousands of legal residents whose education or non-immigrant visas expired.

Many of these people have work permits, jobs and families and simply needed to make a run to a neighboring country to obtain a new visa. However, with borders in Laos, Vietnam, Myanmar and Cambodia closed, that simply isn’t possible.

Since March, Thailand has twice granted visa amnesty, the latest of which expires July 31. But as the deadline drew closer, immigration hinted loudly – and was backed up by foreign embassies – that no further extension would be forthcoming.

But last week’s fiascos in Rayong and Bangkok, as well as a fresh scandal over two flights transiting in Bangkok that carried Covid-19-infected foreigners to China, apparently prompted officials to reconsider.