Unable to cope with the crush of foreigners scrambling to get legal, Thailand’s Immigration Bureau will extend the visa amnesty that was set to expire today.
According to two independent, unrelated visa agents who were at Immigration’s Chaeng Wattana headquarters late Friday, top immigration officials announced that Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha at 2 p.m. Sept. 25 approved an extension of the ongoing amnesty until Oct. 31.
As of Saturday, however, no official letter has been sent to the Immigration Bureau, no official announcement made and no notice published in the Royal Gazette. Sources said they expected that letter to forwarded to Immigration on Monday.
The last-minute extension – which Immigration had never indicated would be forthcoming – came as offices across the country were over-run with stressed and panicked foreigners trying to obtain new visas or extend their expired ones. Those seeking relief ran the gamut from regular tourists who could not obtain flights home in time to long-term expats who, due to the coronavirus pandemic, no longer meet the financial requirements to extend their visas to expats struggling to renew expired business visas.
Foreigners were racked and stacked at Chaeng Wattana, with farangs sitting on floors along hallways. By the end of the day, many were refusing to leave until their applications were taken. The bureau had already announced it would open Saturday, but only take 800 people who reserved a queue spot online.
With an estimated 150,000 foreigners remaining the country on amnesty, it became apparent the Immigration Bureau wouldn’t be able to meet its own Sept. 26 deadline.
After the announcement, everyone still at Chaeng Wattana was sent home and, on Saturday morning, the complex was a virtual ghost town.
Pressure was also put on Prayut by the Thai Chamber of Commerce, which pointed out the stupidity of kicked out spending foreigners while the borders remained closed to all but 1,200 new, long-stay tourists a month under the new Special Tourist Visa.
The TCC noted that Chiang Mai alone has 10,000 foreigners residing there who are contributing to a depressed local economy. Chamber Chairman Kalin Sarasin said the government’s “uncompromising” stance toward foreigners made no sense, given both the recession gripping Thailand and the coronavirus pandemic raging abroad.
Kalin said the TCC had raised the issue three times, but the government until this week dismissed it out of hand. However, Kalin said he was informed Friday that the government was “reviewing” the proposal, which apparently ended up with Prayut reportedly approving an extension until Halloween.