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Thai Visa Extension Amnesty: Issues for Non-Immigrant Visas

Transcript of the above video:

As the title of this video suggests, we are discussing the ongoing extension of the COVID-19 Visa amnesty or Visa waiver program. 

As we have noted in previous videos, there has been this automatic Thai visa extension starting March 26th for those whose visas expired. Specifically let me be clear. The law is specific on Tourist Visa exemption and visas-on-arrival and as I will get into further detail, Non-immigrant visas are something of a sticky wicket if you will when it comes to this new policy. 

For those who are unaware, there was an amnesty program brought online. Those whose Visas expired in those categories between March 26th and April 30th of 2020, had their visas automatically initially extended up until April 30th and now an announcement has come down the pike wherein a further extension has been granted into July of 2020. So this is a rather prolonged amnesty that is going to provide people with I think some peace of mind on a practical level for the upcoming months. I think July with respect to this is definitely where we are going to see the, light might be the wrong term but, "light at the end of the tunnel" with respect to at least the Immigration side of this. 

So this video is about Non-immigrant visas. As I have gotten into in another video, the Embassy letter extension, so people that expired prior to March 26th and got an Embassy letter to extend their status, they seem to be treated qualitatively differently by some Immigration offices, differently than tourist visas who "naturally expired" within that window. Meanwhile there is the Non-immigrant cases and non-immigrants are not Tourist Visas and as we have gotten into in prior videos on this channel, different Immigration offices seem to be taking a different approach with respect to non-immigrants. We recently contacted one of our contacts at Chaengwattana Immigration, somebody that we deal with; let me be clear. There is no special connection with anyone at the Immigration Office; I need to be clear with that. When we deal with US Immigration, people think I have some sort of special connection at the US Embassy; I do not. We have professional cordial relations with those folks but it is professionally distant as well. They have an adjudicatory function that needs to be respected. It is the same at Thai Immigration. We talk to them, we deal with them quite frequently with respect to our clients' cases but we don't have any special pull or any special connections with those folks. That stated, we do contact them and deal with them quite frequently in multiple provinces for that matter, Samutprakarn as well as here in Bangkok quite frequently and from time to time Chonburi, depending on the case. We have gotten to know people over the years. This Company has been in existence I think over 11 years now and we have been dealing with Thai Immigration throughout that period. So over time you do make contacts and we contacted one of our people down there, somebody we know and said "hey what's the situation with this and Non-immigrant visas?" And the information conveyed back to us is "nonimmigrant visas don't qualify". That being said they were very clear about the fact that everybody down there is dealing with this on a day-by-day basis and they are doing the best that they can. These regulations came down suddenly. People need to understand that. I have seen a lot of consternation and frankly a lot of negative comments both in the comments and emails etc. that you know this should be more streamlined or something. Well it didn't exist two weeks ago or at least from the time of this video it didn't exist two weeks ago. Everyone is doing the best that they can in order to get people into status and I think Thai Immigration once they realized that this was an issue, they sprung to it and dealt with it is best that they can. 

The thing to take away from this video is the Amnesty was designed for stranded tourists; that was the underlying policy. It is not really designed for people who are living in Thailand. Now there could be people that spend a lot of time in Thailand that fell into Tourist Visa status and sort of in a sense were fortunate to have fallen into the window and been granted an amnesty but non-immigrants are not the people for whom this policy was made. That is not who they were thinking of when they came up with this amnesty. So you need to understand the policy implications first. You need to understand who they designed is for and again different Immigration offices are taking different approaches to adjudicating this but the thing to thing to take away from this video is we have been told non-immigrants do not qualify directly for this. 

Now is where we get into a fork in the road with respect to the analysis. For those who are extending their visa status in Thailand based on a Non-immigrant Visa, so that is like an O Visa; a B Visa; ED Visa; O-A Visa, Retirement Visa; M Visa, Media, those folks who are in non-immigrant status looking to extend their status here in Thailand, those folks just keep doing what you are doing. If you have been in extension status for years and your extension happens to come up during this window, yeah you need to keep extending. That is just what you need to deal with.  

The people who are falling into a bit of a problem or a seam if you will with respect to the policy behind this appear to me to be the folks that are in a 1 year multiple entry non-immigrant visa. Frankly a lot of our clients have used these. We have converted most of them or the ones that it was relevant to, we have converted them over into extension status because it looks to us as though failure to do so can result in an overstay. You may see the fines ultimately waived or something but is not a good idea to go in to overstay for a variety of different reasons, most notably if you end up in what is considered to be an overstay and for example you interact with a Thai government official and they find this out, especially the police, you may be detained and you may ultimately be taken to Immigration detention and detained for a prolonged period of time. So if you have a Non-immigrant Visa and you are able to extend your status I urge you to do so at all costs if you can because you are putting yourself in a qualitatively better position with respect to your Immigration status in Thailand than allowing yourself to fall into overstay and hoping that this Amnesty applies to you. It is not a foregone conclusion in our opinion that that is the case and quite the opposite, it seems to be the policy that those type of visas are not covered by this Amnesty. 

That being said, this situation continues to evolve and we will continue to update this channel as we get further information but for now I think the thing to take away from this video is that non-immigrants need to be assiduous and need to be vigilant in maintaining their status notwithstanding the provisions of this extended amnesty provided to what appears to me to be primarily for tourists in Thailand.