The news comes as it is estimated that thousands of foreigners departed Thailand last week to comply with the deadline. It is being reported that a verbal decision was taken by the Prime Minister on Thursday last as local immigration offices struggled to cope with a huge volume of applicants for a 30-day extension.
There was some confusion at immigration offices across Thailand on Monday and certainly among the expat and foreign tourist community after news reports emerged over the weekend that the visa amnesty, which officially expired on Saturday last September 26th, is to be extended until October 31st with retrospective effect. An announcement is due from the government shortly on the matter with an official notice due to be published in the Royal Gazette according to a key official.
A senior Thai Immigration officer has now confirmed that an extension to the visa amnesty which ended on Saturday 26th last, will be announced in the coming days, certainly within the week.
Colonel Phakkhaphong Saiubon told reporters with Khaosod on Monday that the decision, when announced officially, will be made retroactive to last Saturday.
He assured those currently in a state of limbo that they would not be prosecuted.
‘I just learned from my bosses over the weekend as well. It’s not official yet but will be announced within this week,’ Colonel Phakkhaphong revealed.
Senior Immigration Bureau officer suggested a more reasonable approach by authorities on Monday
He explained that the ongoing confusion created in administering the visa process was due to the Covid 19 emergency which has made it impossible for many people to exit the kingdom and comply with the government’s efforts to regularise the visa regime.
‘Since many foreigners can’t exit the country, Thai authorities don’t know what to do,’ he said.
At the same time, the immigration officer praised those foreigners who made every effort last week to regularise their affairs.
‘It’s hard to say when extensions will end because many flights can’t go out,’ he said. ‘A lot of people already paid for an embassy letter and extension already as well. Many good people are following the rules.’
Current position: immigration offices in Thailand on Monday acting as if the visa amnesty expired last Saturday including warnings of overstay fines
Several immigration offices around Thailand, on Monday, were working on the assumption that the visa amnesty which expired on Saturday 26th, is now already in the past and are readying to impose visa overstay charges on late applicants for an extension over the coming days.
In Phuket, immigration officers have warned that even though they accepted paperwork on Saturday from 8.30 am to 4.30 pm, they would only be allowing Monday as a grace day promising that from Tuesday, daily fines for overstays will be applied to all foreigners.
This will mean a fee of ฿1,500 from Saturday for those turning up on Tuesday or arriving late with follow up paperwork.
A spokesperson for the Immigration Bureau in Bangkok, Chengron Rimpadee, had earlier denied any knowledge of a reported extension of the amnesty on Monday.
Reports of last-minute extension by PM verbally on Thursday supported by an unsigned document
Unconfirmed news reports from normally credible sources, over the weekend, suggested that the visa amnesty was extended by a verbal instruction given by Prime Minister, Prayut Chan ocha, last week as large queues developed in the last 48 hours before the visa amnesty expired.
The news was further emphasised on Sunday when popular and usually reliable expat blogger, Richard Barrow, came forward with an unsigned document published by the Ministry of the Interior setting out the terms of a further extension of the visa amnesty until 31st October to be followed by confirmation in Thailand’s Royal Gazette.
Warning from blogger to visa holders to wait for the official announcement due this week
On Monday, Mr Barrow took the opportunity to warn expats and tourists in the kingdom that they could not assume that the visa amnesty extension was going to happen.
In a frank assessment of how things are administered in Thailand and the vagaries of government decisions, the blogger said this on his Facebook page: ‘As there has been NO official announcement of the visa extension yet, you are strongly advised to continue as if it won’t be extended. This is Thailand. Anything could happen next. If you had an appointment to go to Immigration today, you should go. Good luck.’
News on the visa extension expected after the cabinet’s regular meeting on Tuesday morning
It is expected that the matter will be clarified one way or another after the Thai cabinet meets on Tuesday with an announcement on visa issues although this could also mean confirmation of finalised arrangements set out for the new long-stay tourist visa which has just received the imprimatur of the Centre for Covid 19 Situation Administration.
Weekend media reports left foreigners confused with many on tenterhooks over their visa status
A diminished community of foreign tourists, still in Thailand after the visa amnesty officially ended on Saturday, were on tenterhooks following the unconfirmed reports which emerged over the weekend.
The media reports were supported by briefings from some visa agents in the visa trade.
Rumours spread in some immigration offices on Saturday as pressure from the deadline appeared to evaporate after a week of ratcheted tension. The heightened tension had already led not only to many tourists but a large number of long-stay foreigners exiting in Thailand before Saturday.
These included some business owners who agonised over an extremely difficult decision to fly out of the country leaving their lives, investment and even families behind them.
Thai Chamber of Commerce rallied behind the foreign community in Thailand urging the government to help support struggling businesses
Last week, it also emerged that the Thai Chamber of Commerce had intensified its lobbying to have the government extend the visa amnesty not only until October 31st but the end of the year.
‘The TCC has raised this issue on three occasions, including at a meeting with the prime minister and the Interior Ministry recently,’ the Chamber’s Chairman, Kalin Sarasin, said. ‘We were told that this agenda was in the process, but there’s been no progress so far as the deadline approaches.’
The top business leader explained to high-level government officials that the community of up to 400,000 stranded tourists, well over initial government estimates of 150,000, were a major source of revenue for Thailand’s beleaguered hospitality sector during this time of crisis.
Mr Kalin said it made no sense to be sending them home when foreign tourists cannot access the kingdom in sufficient numbers.
Chamber of Commerce explains to senior officials that the kingdom needs more positive PR and goodwill
‘The uncompromising stance towards visa extension scares tourists away despite the fact that they help drive the local economy in these tough times,’ Mr Kalin said.
He urged the government to consider the chaos caused by rigorous enforcement of visa regulations at this time compared to the positive potential of a more welcoming and flexible approach to the Thai economy not only immediately but in the longer term.
The Chamber boss was suggesting that goodwill, PR and Thailand’s image abroad are fundamental questions impacting the country’s economic outlook.
It is understood that Mr Kalin was informed last week that some movement on the issue was in the pipeline.
Thousands of foreigners have already flown out
It is already being reported that thousands of foreigners have returned to their own countries, in most instances because they were unable to obtain the appropriate letters to avail of an automatic 30 day extension based on a letter from embassy clarifying that a flight from Thailand to their home country was impossible or that the tourist or expired visa holder had a medical condition in which case, a medical certificate was required.
One UK man, who flew out of Thailand leaving his family behind on Thursday, was perplexed to hear on Monday that the visa amnesty may have been extended after all.
‘I left Thailand on the 25th because they said they wouldn’t extend the amnesty and immigration wouldn’t give me an extension even though I have children in Thailand and the British embassy wouldn’t give me a letter. So I wasted all that money on flights back to the UK and left my family in Thailand. GREAT!!!!’ said James Charlesworth with more than a touch of sarcasm.