Australian ambassador in ongoing talks with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs concerning access for foreigners with links to the kingdom and non-tourist visas. ‘Not a priority’ right now says the envoy but both Ambassador McKinnon and Thai officials have suggested that, later, there may be an official response to deal with this particular situation as tourism is postponed until after October and even then under tight regulation and control.
The Australian Ambassador revealed this week that access to Thailand for foreigners with links to the kingdom, quite apart from tourists, was not a priority at this point in time. He promised that his embassy and other foreign embassies in Bangkok were working on the issue and ‘keeping the lines of communication open’ with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. However, the envoy did suggest that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs would, at a later stage, address the issue once the repatriation efforts for Thai nationals were wound down or circumstances allowed for such a move. It is understood that the current flight ban in place and the ability of Thai officials to process such applications are key considerations at this point. It is now generally accepted, barring some unexpected development, such as an unexpected easing of the virus threat worldwide, that tourist activity will not return to Thailand until at least October and even then, under tight regulation.
The Australian Ambassador, this week, revealed that other foreign embassies in Bangkok are working with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs representing the population of stranded foreigners outside the kingdom who cannot return home.
However, he warned that the current priorities for the Thai government were defeating the Covid 19 threat and the continued repatriation of Thai nationals from around the globe.
Raising the issue of ‘compassionate cases’ and ‘retirees’ with sympathetic Thai officials
He disclosed that the plight and special circumstances of those seeking admission to the kingdom such as ‘compassionate cases’ and ‘retirees’ were well understood by officials at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Bangkok.
Senior officials at the ministry have promised that, in the future, they would ‘give great attention to these cases,’ he indicated.
‘Not a priority’ for now, apologised for ‘unwelcome news’ to those seeking to return home to Thailand
However, ‘for the moment’, the ministry’s officials had made it clear that ‘these cases are not a priority’.
‘I know that this is unwelcome news to many people who want to return to Thailand to reunite with their family and loved ones,’ Allan McKinnon said.
However, he promised to keep pressing the matter on a weekly basis with officials and that he and other foreign ambassadors would ‘keep the lines of communication open’ to the Foreign Ministry.
Thai embassies worldwide and Foreign Ministry in Bangkok currently processing applications for foreigner work permits holders
This announcement by the ambassador comes after the Ministry of Foreign Affairs last week gave details of entry requirements for work permit holders and those working with Thai government agencies which are currently being processed by Thai consular officials around the world and the ministry in Bangkok.
Hopes raised by May 28th comments from National Security Council official that country would re-open
It also followed more buoyant signals for foreigners outside the kingdom when the secretary-general of the National Security Council, General Somsak Rungsita, on Thursday, May 28th, signalled that all lockdown measures and indeed the state of emergency would end on July 1st.
The top government official was speaking to the Bangkok Post newspaper and subsequent reports indicated that international flights would again be allowed into Thailand.
Indeed, this is still the default position as both the emergency decree and the civil aviation flight ban on international passenger arrivals are both due to expire on June 30th next.
Prime Minister Prayut Chan ocha poured cold water on such speculation this week saying no decision yet
However, this week, the Thai prime minister, in a press briefing appeared to pour cold water on this prospect and emphasised that no decision had been taken by the cabinet nor had there been consultations with the Civil Aviation Authority on inbound flights to the kingdom.
General Prayut also warned that any resumption of international flights would be strictly and tightly controlled.
Before the flight ban, there was already extensive regulation under both orders and provisions issued by the Civil Aviation Authority and the Ministry of Public Health under the 2015 Communicable Disease Act.
Tourism bridges or bubbles underlined by the PM as previously outlined by Tourism Authority Governor
It was also indicated by the prime minister that further access to the kingdom will be controlled based on the country of origin being matched with the destination in Thailand.
Such an approach has already been outlined by the Governor of the Thai Tourism Authority, Yuthasak Supasorn, who has also intimated that it will be October before access to Thailand will be allowed under current plans for tourism.
Visa on arrival facilities for tourism visitors are currently suspended until September 30th 2020.
Even repatriation of Thai nationals is secondary to the fight against the virus – Covid 19 centre official
In the meantime, until then, the ‘tough’ and clear focus of Thai authorities is on controlling and defeating the Covid 19 virus and thereafter, the repatriation of Thai nationals.
However, this is being closely monitored with Dr Taweesin Visanuyothin of the Center for COVID-19 Situation Administration (CCSA) warning at the end of May that the protection of the Thai population of over 60 million people must be given priority even over those Thai nationals seeking repatriation from abroad.
Ramping up daily processing power for 400 people a day to 500 in June says Ministry of Defence
Another key issue is the level of repatriations that are possible for Thai authorities.
This week, in response to pressure from the Thai prime minister to ramp up repatriations, Lieutenant General Kongcheep Tantawanich, a spokesman for the Ministry of Defence announced that authorities would now be able to handle 500 arrivals per day which is a 25% increase on the 400 arrivals per day limit during May imposed on officials because of the need to screen, test and process such arrivals and deliver them into 14-day state quarantine.
Best outcome for stranded foreigners lies with flight access and a concession from the Foreign Ministry
In this context, it appears that any progress for stranded foreigners outside the kingdom will come between the end of June and October based on some sort of accommodation arrived at through the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
The remarks made by Ambassador McKinnon, in this respect, were confirmed by Natapanu Nopakun, the Deputy Director-General of the Information Department at the Thai Ministry of Foreign Affairs last week when he said this: ‘Our repatriation mission is nearing completion, and once that is done, then we can accommodate the flow of foreigners stranded outside Thailand.’
Even foreigners with a work permit still face a steep challenge to access Thailand at this time
In the meantime, foreigners without work permits are watching carefully to see how the current concession to foreigners seeking access is working.
One of the questions is access to Thailand while the passenger flight ban is in place.
There are reports of some foreigners, with official certificates of entry, arriving in Thailand in recent days on stopover flights to other destinations landing in Bangkok where passengers can disembark if they have the correct documentation.
There was initially some speculation that foreigners may be allowed, at a later stage in June, to participate in Thai government organised repatriation flights which have to be paid for but which, for now, as The Australian ambassador warned this week, are reserved exclusively for Thai nationals.
Australian ambassador engaging with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs which is ‘sympathetic’
In his briefing this week, Ambassador Alan McKinnon pointed out that he had engaged with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in several discussions on the wider context of foreigners seeking access to Thailand and in particular the compassionate cases of foreigners seeking to be reunited with their Thai families.
‘We received a very polite hearing,’ he reported.
‘The Thai government understands the situation and is sympathetic but it doesn’t want to import Covid 19 cases and in this context, government officials pointed to a slight upward blip in numbers in recent days, all of which seemed to have been brought into the country.’
Foreigners who are not tourists but who live here – those with work permits and those who have not
Mr McKinnon then went on to explain that the Thai government, at an official level, is dividing those foreigners who are not tourists and who have links to the kingdom but who are stranded outside Thailand into two categories.
‘Effectively the Thai government considers all people who want to come back whatever the category, compassion, retirees or people with work visas into two broad categories. Those with valid work permits or visas and other cases,’ he said.
Work permit concession is ‘good news’ but the embassy is not involved in processing applications
He then said that those with work permits should apply for permission to access the kingdom if they considered their situation as urgent right now. The ambassador noted that this was good news.
However, he warned that the application process, for which Thai embassies worldwide have issued guidance, is one that is solely in the hands of the Thai government. The Australian Embassy or consular officials are not involved.
‘Please do not contact the embassy or the consular team for assistance with your application- we can’t help you.’
‘Significant caveats’ still remain even for foreigners with work permits gaining access to Thailand
The ambassador also warned that even for those with work permits and seeking access to Thailand on this basis, there were a few ‘significant caveats’ to this concession also.
‘Firstly, Thailand’s ban on incoming flights is still in place and until that ban is lifted, the only flights available are the Thai government’s repatriation flights and the Thai government is unsurprisingly prioritising Thai citizens only via these flights.’
‘Options will start to improve’ after July 1st
However, he held out hope for some positive developments after July 1st. ‘Options will start to improve if and when the current ban on international arrivals is lifted after 1st July.’
Secondly, the ambassador stressed that only those with an ‘urgent need’ should apply to return to Thailand even if they satisfy the current criteria including a work permit or approved work status.
‘Not everybody who applies will be approved. The ministry will review all requests on a case by case basis taking into account the urgency and the economic importance of the application,’ he explained.
14 days hotel quarantine at your own expense
Thirdly and quite significantly, there is the Thai government’s hotel quarantine on arrival requirement as access by foreigners to state quarantine is now barred.
‘You should be aware that on arrival in Thailand, you will be required to take up a 14-day quarantine at your own expense. Estimates vary but it could between ฿30,000 to ฿60,000 per person or more depending on the venue.’
For Australians and some other countries, you need permission to fly out of the jurisdiction
Fourthly and for Australians, the ambassador warned that to leave the country, at this time, an exemption must be obtained from Australian border authorities based on certain criteria. Similar controls also exist in some other western countries.
First question is when will the international flight ban be lifted even if subject to strict regulation
Based on developments in the last week, for now, foreigners must, first of all, watch to see if and when the incoming passenger flights, even subject to strict controls and regulations, are going to re-commence.
The next issue is to monitor when it is expected that the repatriation of Thai nationals will come to an end or diminish so that the issue of the wider foreigner community with links to the kingdom can be addressed by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
Reports of an easing of the virus
Of course, matters can change one way or another, depending on any developments to do with the virus both within Thailand and outside the kingdom.
There are some reports from the UK and Europe in the last week that the virus is retreating although health officials particularly in the UK, are both wary and cautious.
The reports concerning the virus included Italian doctors suggesting that it had become weaker and easier to treat while vaccine scientists in the United Kingdom suggested that testing new vaccines was becoming more difficult as the virus is retreating.
Thailand’s tourism industry not reopening until October and even then, only with tight controls
Countries around the world are also opening up to tourism albeit with controls.
Many are offering more relaxed requirements than what is being proposed right now for the fourth quarter in Thailand. These include countries such as Greece and Tahiti in the Pacific Ocean.
However, for now, the current position is that Thailand will not be open to tourism until the last quarter of 2020 and only on a limited and quality controlled basis.
The indications are that controlled entry for foreigners with links to the kingdom under the auspices of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and other government agencies will take place sometime between July and October 2020.