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UPDATES on Automatic Thai Visa Extensions Due to COVID-19

Transcript of the above video:

As the title of this video suggests, we are discussing yet again the COVID-19 outbreak and the Thai Immigration response to that outbreak most notably the so-called Thai visa extensions or automatic Thai visa extension or also referred to as Thai Visa waivers; I have also seen this referred to as a Thai Visa amnesty. All of this is talking about the same issue which is folks who came into Thailand, have gotten stuck or stranded and can't get back out presumably or they are dealing with extending their status lawfully here in Thailand. So maintaining lawful status here in the Kingdom; not going into overstay is the main concern here. 

So as we went into and I got some flak for a video last week, where I was discussing prior information given out by the Head of Thai Immigration and my video did not seem to fully comport with how they were actually implementing Thai Immigration rules especially with respect to in-person applications for these extensions. So for most people they don't need to come in person to apply for this automatic extension. As we will get into later, we are now seeing where the "rubber hits the road' on this; we are seeing that the "devil is in the details".  

It should be noted as I noted in prior videos, this all came about in a matter of a couple of days. The policy was implemented quite quickly. As I have noted before, the announcement itself was quite vaguely worded and it is subject to interpretation as well as administrative discretion with respect to enforcement by Immigration Officers on the ground and I will get into the details of how that can play out and I will get into further detail on later videos that will likely be coming out later this week with respect to this. 

But, understand this first off. Those of you who are in Tourist Visa status, if you had a Thai tourist visa and came into Thailand, if you have a Thai Visa exemption, for most people that is going to be a 30-day stamp that was granted on arrival; they didn't get a Visa, they didn't go through an Embassy or any of that, they just got a 30-day stamp on arrival in Thailand and it may not necessarily be a 30-day stamp. Certain countries have bilateral relationships with Thailand that dictate different terms by which those folks enter in Visa exempt status. For example, some nationalities enter with 14 days, some enter with 90 days. It depends on the specific bilateral agreement between that nation and Thailand.  But for this purpose just understand if you came into Thailand and you were granted a Visa exemption on arrival, this applies to you.

Finally, those who were granted a visa-on-arrival when coming into Thailand, so that is a Tourist Visa granted at the time you arrive in Thailand, for any of those people, folks covered by any of those statuses, whose status expires between the 26th of March and the 30th of April, you folks are granted an automatic stay if you will from being considered in overstay until April 30th. So as of today,  we are making this video Monday, 13th April, if you would have otherwise gone into overstay today and you have one of those status, then you will not go into overstay. You are just sort of waived. You are granted an amnesty and your Visa is considered extended until April 30th. 

However, the devil is in the details on this and I got a lot of flak for one video we made where we were talking about a prior Bangkok Post article that was quoting directly the Head of Thai Immigration, the Immigration Chief here in Thailand and I interpreted his remarks along with the vagueness of the announcement, to mean that you initially had to go and get a visa extension stamp pursuant to this amnesty policy, and then thereafter it would be rolled over and the policy of the amnesty would be re-examined on a monthly basis. I was wrong about that. I made a video and clarified how I was wrong about that and it proved that you did not have to show up in person to go ahead and just be granted an amnesty; that was not required. 

That being said, I didn't take down the video and some people have asked me why. One of the reasons is I believed it was correct at the time I made it. I believe it was correct at the time it was posted. Now shortly thereafter things changed but also I left it up because the analysis in it bears on to what we are now dealing with with respect to certain kinds of folks who are stuck in status here moving forward or who I stuck in kind of a limbo here moving forward.

This is one of those instances where strangely it kind of called up experiences I had in law school most notably when Law professors would tell us "You folks that don't read what are called the dissenting opinions", so in many of these Appeals Court cases you will have the main holding which the majority of the Court will have come together and written a singular opinion on a main holding in a case, but then you will have judges who disagreed with that holding and they will write their dissenting opinion in some cases. Now that dissenting opinion is not binding by any stretch of the imagination but as Law professors told me way back when, "the dissenting opinion can provide a lot of definition and it can provide a lot of insight into the thinking that went into the final decision". In this case we are not talking about a dissent. I was taking information that was quoted from the Head of Thai immigration, somewhat out of context, and frankly I was misapplying it. Now I came by that misapplication honestly because I was under a harsh time constraint and also the announcement itself was rather vague. So in the totality of the circumstances, I made the interpretation that I did but those remarks are now coming home to roost if you will because I think one of the main things that he was talking about specifically with the issue of folks who expired but then obtained an Embassy stamp. I am going to get to this in another video in greater detail but there are folks whose Visa went into expiration before the 26th March, before this window, the 26th to the 30th came about and those folks are in a qualitatively different position in my opinion and apparently in the opinion of Immigration Officers that we have heard about from clients and from folks sending us information by email or comments on our YouTube channel, the Immigration Officers are taking the position, at least in some offices that folks who had to get an Embassy letter in order to maintain their status, so they were granted this Embassy letter, and they were basically granted a stamp that basically said "until further notice” or “under consideration’; it was basically a stamp that said “pending" for lack of a better term. Those folks whose Visas expired prior to the 26th of March but they got a letter from their Embassy requesting the Thai Immigration maintain their status, it appears that those folks will not be necessarily covered under this amnesty. So understand if you went and got an Embassy letter and you got your Visa extended and let's say you got it extended to 21st of April for example, that type of scenario will result in a situation where you may need to still go talk to Immigration in order to keep your status maintained. Based on the remarks from the head of Thai immigration in that Bangkok Post article I previously cited, it seems that this was thought out. I think that was the quotation that I apparently took out of context. That is what they were referring to is these folks who had previously gotten an Embassy letter, extended their status into the window but were expiring in the window. Those folks are not treated, it looks to me, the same way that folks who came in on a Tourist Visa and just naturally expired for lack of better term within the window. So that is the first thing to understand.  We are seeing the rubber hit the road with respect to this. 

Meanwhile, it now also appears different Immigration Offices are taking a different position on Non-immigrant Visas so as I have said in previous videos and I continue to say, if you were going to extend anyway between March, April and May, go ahead and keep extending the way you always have been. It appears to us that nothing is going to change with respect to protocols for continuation of extension procedures. So, if you are going to extend, you are planning on extending, if you remain in extension status continue in extending status. However, there are folks, most notably those who have Non-immigrant multiple entry visas, these are folks who have a one-year sticker in their passport but who received 90 days of status upon entry to Thailand, multiple-entry non-immigrant visas. We see this a lot in the context of a multi-entry non-immigrant B Visa, or a multi-entry Non-immigrant O Visa, that is quite frequent. The O Visa may be based on marriage. In some cases may be raising a child here in Thailand, various reasons for that. Even multiple entry O-A Visas but I am not going to get into that. We are going to do a video specifically on Retirement Visas because they are a little bit different. 

The thing to take away from this video is, if you had been stamped in on a multi-entry Non-immigrant Visa and you were granted a 90-day stamp, it seems that different Immigration Offices are taking a different tack on this and interpreting this differently depending on the office you go to. Where we have been talking to Chaengwattana more directly than we have been talking to much of any other office, although we have talked to Chonburi in recent days and I think Samutprakarn; I think one of my staff mentioned Samutprakarn the other day,  I am sorry I am getting a little frazzled with respect to everything I can remember, but the multi-entry 90-day visas, you may not necessarily be granted or covered if you will under this new amnesty so you either need to contact your local office or contact an Immigration professional that deals with Thai Immigration regularly and ascertain exactly where you stand. It may be a good idea especially, for those of you in a multi-entry B or a multiple-entry O, be looking at your options for extending as that may be the only way out of getting stuck in an overstay trap that you didn't intend to get stuck into. 

Now finally to culminate with respect to this video, these are the things you need to take away: Tourists as previously stated, if you expire in the March 26th - April 30th window, you are covered. There is an amnesty, you don't need to really do much of anything. If you are one of these folks that had a Tourist Visa but that expired prior to the 26th and you had to use an Embassy letter to maintain your status, you may not be covered. It is looking more and more like that; specifically you need to take further action. If you are in a Non-immigrant Visa of some sort, you probably need to take further action. Now depending on your circumstances, it may change the type of action you need to take but those with a multi-entry non-immigrant Visa where you got 90 days of status at your last entry, you may want to be looking at your extension options. Those who are extending, it looks like you are going to want to go ahead and continue extending the way you otherwise would have done.