Good news from the Thai Ministry of Foreign Affairs yesterday for foreigners outside Thailand allowing work permit holders to enter immediately but subject to approval and a July 1st date for revocation of the State of Emergency indicated by a senior official. After an initial welcome, some foreigners are still confused and looking for answers. They must be patient, for now, there are only definite requirements for work permit holders who, it is reported, will have access to official government repatriation flights. Measures and regulation for other visa holders after July 1st will be subject to the laws and controls in place before the State of Emergency was introduced on March 26th. We can, however, give some indication of how this may play out.
Thai authorities have officially clarified the requirements for foreign work permit holders to access the kingdom. Each will have to apply individually to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and be granted a Certificate of Entry for the kingdom from the relevant Thai Embassy after authorisation. This follows an indication from a senior security official, General Somsak Rungsita, of the National Security Council that international flights may restart on July 1st as the emergency decree may be rescinded. This would open up the kingdom again to foreigners with visas. It will still mean that such access will revert to the stringent controls imposed by the Ministry of Public Health under the Communicable Disease Act 2015 and relevant measures laid down by the Thai Civil Aviation Authority which were in place before the State of Emergency came into force on March 26th last.
There were two pieces of encouraging news for foreigners stranded outside Thailand yesterday. The first was that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs had issued guidance to Thai Embassies worldwide to process applications for entry and repatriation of foreigners with work permits in the kingdom as well as those contracted to government agencies.
The second was an announcement from the secretary-general of the National Security Council that the emergency decree and its associated provisions, is likely to be abrogated, opening the way for a resumption of international flights into Thailand and inter-provincial travel.
Confusion among foreigners anxious to come home
Already, just 24 hours after these two bits of news, there is confusion caused mainly by the latter statement which will require official confirmation and further details from relevant government agencies.
A similar suggestion was also made by Thai security officials in late April and early May that the State of Emergency would end on June 1st but this did not transpire.
A report in the Thai Examiner yesterday clarifies the current position and also gives some indication of what the way forward might look like:
Currently, there are three groups of foreigners with different time frames namely work permit holders who are being prioritised by the Thai government and will also be able to access repatriation flights within weeks followed by those with long term visas or those who have obtained visas directly from the Thai Embassy.
There are also reports that particular attention will be paid to this group at some later stage. Australian Ambassador Allan McKinnon was told this on Tuesday by Thai Foreign Ministry officials.
The third groups are foreigners visiting the kingdom as tourists.
Controlled tourism expected in the last quarter of the year according to Thai Tourism chiefs
Tourism officials with the Thai government such as Tourism Authority of Thailand Governor Yuthasak Supasorn, indicate that foreign tourism will only begin flowing back into Thailand after October 1st and even then, tourism offerings will be subject to safety restrictions.
Broad access to Thailand with visa on arrival facilities or visa waivers has already been officially postponed until October 1st at the earliest.
New tourism offerings being developed include quarantine requirements and a mooted more secure travel ‘bridge’ type tourism where closed-off locations will also be targeted to visitors from safer countries with inbuilt quarantine and medical support aimed at a higher quality of tourist.
Marriage and retirement visa holders should have access after July 1st but with strict conditions
This then leaves matters to be clarified regarding access for long term visa holders such as those with retirement or marriage visas either before July 1st for repatriation flights or after that date, based on commercial air travel.
This is assuming that the state of emergency is rescinded on July 1st so the review of this is the first thing for foreigners to watch out for or an initiative from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
This coincides with a commitment from officials at the ministry this week to the Australian Ambassador, Alan McKinnon, that special efforts will be made for this group in due course.
Reemergence of the Ministry of Health and Minister Anutin Charnvirakul to centre stage
Access to Thailand will then be regulated, in the same way, it was prior to the state of emergency being announced on March 26th, by the Ministry of Public Health with stringent requirements for most travellers and even more stringent controls for those originating from high-risk zones as designated under the Communicable Disease Act of 2015.
These requirements and zones may well be updated before international flights recommence.
In mid-May, China, South Korea, Macau and Hong Kong were removed from the list of ‘dangerous disease zones’ as specified under the law.
This will mean a return of Minister of Public Health Anutin Charnvirakul to centre stage in dealing with this issue.
The senior Thai minister and deputy prime minister became a bête noire for many foreigners both inside and outside Thailand in the run-up to the state of emergency due to a number of controversies related to the use of face masks, the presence of western foreigners in the kingdom and entry conditions for certain countries or zones.
Lobbying by envoys and the Foreign Chambers of Commerce on behalf of the Thai Foreign community
The first breakthrough yesterday which was the official confirmation that foreign work permit holders are now eligible for a Certificate of Entry into the Kingdom, at their relevant embassies, came from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Bangkok.
This response came about after lobbying by various envoys including the Australian ambassador and, in particular, the Foreign Chambers of Commerce in Thailand which has proved itself to be a highly effective body at representing the foreigner community in Thailand.
Official requirements detailed on Thursday by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs for work permit holders
Details were issued by the ministry on Thursday which officially specified the requirements for foreigners with work permits availing of this relief measure at this time.
At a later stage, similar clarification is expected to be issued for the wider foreigner community with senior officials at the ministry confirming to the Australian ambassador on Tuesday last that they are acutely aware of the issue and sympathetic to the circumstances of those foreigners seeking a return to Thailand to reunite with family members.
They stressed, however, that any special action to deal with the group will be dependent on the country’s progress in dealing with the Covid 19 situation and relevant government decisions.
For now, even for work permit holders, there are requirements.
They are quite demanding including a certificate of good health and a declaration to be witnessed by the embassy issued 72 hours before departure for Thailand, health insurance including Covid 19 cover to the value of $100,000 and agreement to 14 days quarantine at one of the government’s alternative quarantine programme hotels which will be at the traveller’s own expense.
These requirements are now official under the state of emergency until July 1st and any cancellation of that measure will require new ones to be clarified.
This was alluded to yesterday by National Security Council secretary-general, General Somsak Rungsita.
After July 1st access to Thailand will be controlled again by the Ministry of Public Health and CAAT
After July 1st, assuming the state of emergency is rescinded, entry to Thailand for foreigners with other visa holders will be subject to laws in place before the emergency decree came into effect unless the Ministery of Foreign Affairs and the government makes special provision for the groups with long-term visas.
If not, this will mean criteria will be set by the Ministry of Public Health and implemented by the Civil Aviation Authority of Thailand (CAAT).
It may also be the case, as indicated this week by General Somsak of the National Security Council that new measures or provisions will be announced to replace or uphold state of emergency provisions.
However, it is almost certain that the Communicable Disease Act 2015 will remain in force.
Under this, travellers from zones of higher infection are required to have relevant medical certification, health coverage and accede to quarantine.
It is also quite likely unless exceptions are made for specific countries, that some of these requirements will be on a blanket basis but this is a matter to be clarified by the Ministry of Public Health.