PHUKET: Foreigners with a visa overstay or an expiring visa are encouraged to obtain a letter from their embassy and visit their local immigration office. Visitors are encouraged to wear a face mask and observe strict hygiene requirements. They can obtain a 30-day visa extension and remedy current overstays.
There is good news for western tourists currently riding out the coronavirus emergency in sunny Thailand away from alarming scenes being witnessed on the streets of western cities including the UK and Europe with panic buying, lockdowns and an increasing death toll. Following high-level consultations this week pushed by the sports and tourism minister, it has now been revealed that immigration police will issue 30 day extensions for all tourists with a valid letter from their embassy or consulate stating that their itinerary has been disrupted because of the coronavirus. Any overstay since the emergency became acute at the end of January will be covered. The new initiative is being taken under existing immigration laws which allow for such a course in exceptional circumstances.
The Thai government is making moves to accommodate an estimated 500,000 foreigners in Thailand who may be trapped or facing difficulty making their way home because of border closures in the European Union and disruption in other western countries. Some are simply opting to take refuge in Thailand at this time.
This week, a high-level meeting took place between representatives of the Immigration Bureau, the Minister of the Interior and the Minister of Tourism.
Coronavirus tourists may help offset the losses to tourism this year as numbers dwindle
Tourism and Sports Minister, Phiphat Ratchakitprakarn, has emerged as a champion for this community which he sees as an opportunity to underpin Thailand’s Tourism activity as the country gradually closes its borders and restricts incoming passengers.
Many of those now in the country are reported to be from the United States, Europe or Russia.
Visa run tourists still exist
Although authorities cannot acknowledge it officially, the current situation is severely impacting foreigners doing visa runs, a community thought to have been wiped out by immigration police crackdowns in the last five years.
With the border with Malaysia now closed and Laos suspending the issuance of all new visas from Saturday, this group will be among the first to avail of this new temporary relaxation in policy.
Phuket’s Immigration Bureau reveals details of new measures allowing 30-day visa extensions
On Friday, details emerged from the Phuket Immigration Office and it is reported that other immigration centres throughout the kingdom are being briefed on the new dispensation to deal with the virus emergency.
Since January, the immigration bureau has let it be known that immigration officials will adopt a flexible attitude to foreigners who, because of the Covid 19 virus outbreak, have overstayed their visas.
The new regulations authorise immigration officers to issue a 30-day extension on all visas at the current time provided certain conditions are satisfied and applicants are open with authorities about their situation.
Hygiene measures must be respected when visiting immigration centres including wearing a face mask
The first may not be strictly applied to all immigration offices but this week, in Phuket, it was being rigorously enforced as the first order of business.
It requires that the foreigners must present at the immigration centre wearing a face mask and cooperate with officials in maintaining a hygienic environment for both officers and the public.
A valid passport and a specially worded letter from embassies or consulates specifying the coronavirus
Secondly, a valid passport must be presented showing the immigration history of the visitor while finally, the applicant will need a letter from his or her embassy or consulate, stating that their travel plans have been disrupted by the coronavirus emergency and asking for the cooperation of Thai authorities.
Senior immigration officer briefs the press in Phuket
This was explained to Phuket’s local newspaper, the Phuket News, on Friday by the Phuket Immigration Bureau’s Deputy Chief Lieutenant Colonel Udom Thagchin.
Lieutenant Colonel Udom explained that the current crisis made it difficult for many foreigners to leave Thailand and, indeed, it would be irresponsible and risky for them to do so in many situations.
‘So we are issuing 30-day extensions in accordance with immigration regulations that allow for such measures during special circumstances, such as an outbreak of disease,’ he told reporters.
The extensions will cost ฿1,900 which is the normal processing fee.
Wording of letter from embassy or consulate
The immigration boss highlighted the importance of the letter from the relevant embassy or consulate. It must also be specifically worded.
‘The letter must be from the embassy or consulate requesting that the Royal Thai Police Immigration Bureau allow the foreigner to stay in the country longer. It must name the foreigner and it must have the sentence that the foreigner is unable to travel due to the COVID-19 coronavirus situation,’ he said.
Current visa overstays will not be acted upon and remedied by the extension when issued
He said that foreigners who may be currently on overstay need not worry as the immigration bureau would wait until they had the letter from their embassy to issue the extension and stamp it on their passport. However, the official letter must be presented by hand at the immigration facility.
Finally, Lieutenant Colonel Udom made it clear that any foreigner who arrives at the Immigration Bureau in Phuket must comply with hygiene and sanitising efforts to control the virus including wearing a face mask.
Officers will refuse entry or service to anyone without a face mask at the facility.
The senior officer revealed that all immigration bureau staff were now using gloves to handle documents and are cleaning down seating and conference areas after each visit to the centre.
Anyone with concerns about their immigration status is advised to make contact with immigration officials at the nearest local immigration centre at this time.