Particular problems associated with long-stay Non-Immigrant B visa holders under the present extraordinary conditions are being identified as the closure of the kingdom’s borders has prevented expats from earning income and regularly travelling outside the kingdom while business owners with the visa in Thailand have seen their personal circumstances diminished to such an extent that many cannot comply with the normal conditions. The next few days, for thousands of these people, will be stressful as they weigh up and consider exiting Thailand to avoid ending up on the wrong side of the law while facing a highly uncertain future.
A senior Immigration Bureau officer in Bangkok on Monday warned that the bureau would make use of its live database to track down visa overstayers from midnight on Saturday who failed to extend their visas as the Covid 19 visa amnesty finally comes to an end. As well as over 150,000 tourists believed to be still in Thailand since January, there are also many small business people, caught in peculiar circumstances, who now have a matter of days to decide whether to leave their life in Thailand behind them and return home or see if they can find a solution to their predicament as they can no longer meet extension requirements because of the disruption of their business and diminished financial circumstances.
Senior Thai Immigration Bureau officers throughout Thailand are working frantically to process a deluge of last-minute applications as it becomes clear that the visa amnesty issued because of the Covid 19 crisis will not be renewed after it expires on Saturday next, September 26th, at midnight.
Today in Bangkok, Police Colonel Pakpong Sai-ubol, a deputy spokesman for the Immigration Bureau, told the Bangkok Post newspaper that according to the bureau’s central database, it appears that well over 150,000 foreigners have yet to apply to extend their visas at this point, just days before the deadline.
Embassy letters of medical certs required
A 30-day extension is allowed on the basis of obtaining a letter from the foreigner’s embassy or consulate stating that they cannot avail of a flight home at this time or a medical certificate to suggest that they cannot travel because of ill health.
The senior police officer warned that, after Saturday, anyone who has not extended their visa, as the amnesty expires, will be subject to immediate arrest by immigration officers.
He further indicated that the immigration bureau will set about identifying those who have not extended their visas as a campaign will be waged to quickly regularise the situation in the kingdom and root out overstayers.
Immigration Bureau officers fear thousands of former tourists may attempt to live illegally in Thailand
Officers fear that many of the foreigners still in Thailand since January this year, even though nearly 70% have since flown home, may not be fully aware of how serious their predicament is.
An arrest by the Immigration Bureau does not automatically mean that the offender will be placed on a plane home.
Arrest and detention by the Immigration Bureau in Thailand is a serious and dangerous outcome
In fact, what it means is the detention of the overstayer at the Immigration Detention Centre in Bangkok or at another holding facility such as a Thai prison while the offender is afforded limited opportunity to purchase or arrange, at their own expense, an airfare to return home.
In recent years, several foreigners have died while being held by immigration in this situation as conditions in such facilities are tough including chronic overcrowding.
On Monday, Police Colonel Pakpong revealed that Immigration officials fear that some foreigners have decided that they can live and work illegally in Thailand.
If so, the consequences are very serious.
Problems for long-stay Non-Immigrant B visa holders caused by closed borders coming to the fore now
In the meantime, the normalisation of the immigration regime is crystalising a problem for foreigners who have lived in Thailand on long-stay visas such as Multiple Entry Non-Immigrant B visas for work or business or even the single-entry version usually used by more permanent residents.
Many of these visa holders with multiple entry versions have been accustomed to leaving the country every three months or so but the current ban on foreigners entering the kingdom except by prior and strictly controlled approval while also subjects to expensive alternative state quarantine and other requirements.
This will make renewing such visas quite difficult as extension conditions applied by the Immigration Bureau in Thailand are more rigorous than when applying for visa renewals outside the kingdom at certain embassies and consulates.
There are also problems for more permanent single entry holders, many of whom run businesses in Thailand.
Ukrainian businessman facing an impossible position after his visa renewal was refused in August
On Monday, it was reported that a Ukrainian businessman who operates a boat chartering business in Phuket, was refused an extension of his visa on August 6th last.
He has been in Thailand for five years now.
Volodymyr Fedorovych was told that his business did not have the required amount of local employees. Mr Fedorovych explained that his business was ordered closed as part of the Covid 19 lockdown measures on April 11th last.
Due to the depressed tourist economy, he has not been able to employ the required Thai staff.
The Ukrainian also added that even if he was to try, he cannot now find staff with the required social security record for the last three months which is a requirement to renew his visa.
Some advised to apply for a 30-day extension
A senior immigration officer in Phuket, some weeks ago, acknowledged that there are those who find themselves in unexpected grey areas, through no fault of their own, that many with long-stay visas would normally never find themselves in.
He suggested that they may choose to apply for the short term extension on offer.
However, this would be unsuitable for foreigners in Thailand operating a business. Neither would their embassies supply the required letter. This leaves them with the option of obtaining a medical certificate which may also not be appropriate.
It had been thought that some measure or path would be introduced by the government which would take into consideration the particular circumstances of this community who contribute greatly to the economy in Thailand in terms of investment, employment and taxes but that has not happened thus far.
This group of foreigners is well aware of the importance of keeping a regular visa status
As it stands, many foreigners involved in small business, some of them with limited and dwindling cash reserves will have to seriously consider exiting the kingdom in days if no solution is found.
Nearly all are aware of the danger of not keeping their visa status regular and most will choose not to take that risk.
Unfortunately, they are then left with only the prospects of paying for an airfare out of Thailand and finding accommodation in their home country and thereafter being stranded outside the kingdom facing a difficult, demanding and expensive route back where their business and working environment will have deteriorated even further.
Many will also be forced to leave behind, at least temporarily, loved ones and family.
Immigration Bureau spokesman in Bangkok warns that officers will use the live database to track down offenders after Saturday’s deadline
In the meantime, Police Colonel Pakpong in Bangkok has made it clear that the Immigration Bureau will be using its live database, which has a record of every foreigner in Thailand, to track down and arrest any person who is found to be in breach of the 1979 Immigration Act after this Saturday.
Phuket Immigration Bureau working helter-skelter after a huge surge in the last week for extensions
At Phuket’s Immigration Office on Monday, Deputy Chief, Lieutenant Colonel Udom Thongchin spoke to the local newspaper, The Phuket News.
He said that his officers are willing to work until midnight on Saturday to process all those that turn up to have their visas extended before the deadline expires.
Lieutenant Colonel Udom warned that anyone that comes after Saturday will still be processed but will have to pay a fine of ฿500 per day.
Senior Immigration Bureau officials are also warning that anyone who overstays their visa by 90 days or more will be automatically deported from Thailand and blacklisted from the kingdom for one year.
Lieutenant Colonel Udom explained that there has been a huge surge since last week as many foreigners had decided to leave renewing their visas to the last-minute, perhaps banking on an extension despite assurances that this would not be happening.
Large number of visa holders in Phuket may still miss Saturday’s deadline according to database
He also urged those attending the local office to make sure that they have the appropriate documents to speed up the process. Many have been turned away, in recent days, on this basis.
On Monday, it was reported that over 190 people a day are being processed in Phuket alone since the surge with numbers steadily increasing as the deadline approaches.
He indicated that he was also concerned at the number of foreigners who had still not turned up to renew.
‘With five days left to extend their visa, according to our records there are in total 1,641 foreigners on tourist or long-stay visas on the database who still have not come to our office to extend their visa,’ he revealed.
Office will open and work late on Saturday to assist foreigners who turn up before the amnesty expires
He said that the Phuket Immigration Office will be open on Saturday from 8.30 am and his team would work through until midnight to process anyone that comes to renew.
After Saturday, fines and other penalties will apply, so foreigners are being urged to get their immigration status in order in the next five days.
‘So this Saturday, we will open our office to serve foreigners at 8.30 am in the morning and we will stay open to process all applications submitted on that day, even if we have to work until midnight, Lieutenant Colonel Udom promised. ‘But after September 26th, foreigners will be fined ฿500 a day if their visa has not been extended. Honestly, we do not want to charge them, but we must follow the law. Please come to have your visa extended on time.’