Time is ticking quickly. The date of September 26th, which is when the Visa Amnesty, or “grace period” that many foreigners in Thailand are on is approaching quickly and despite some encouraging signs behind the scenes there have been no official announcements of any agreements, paid visas, etc for those who wish to stay as of the writing of this article.
We have written about extending the amnesty before, which you can read below, although this column is different. Thailand made it clear they would not extend the amnesty once more, however, pressure is rising in some sectors to allow some sort of path, likely paid, for those who wish to stay to do so that may not be eligible for a work permit or retirement visa or other similar visa.
Already, many people have left the country while others have made expensive 50,000 plus baht purchases from visa agents for various types of visas to stay, according to reports on social media.
However, a significant portion of those on the visa amnesty have opted to wait until next week, specifically in and around the Thai Cabinet meeting on Tuesday, September 15. The Cabinet will be meeting to discuss a new “special tourist visa” and it is possible, but not guaranteed nor mentioned, that it could be made available for tourists currently on amnesty. Keep in mind, however, no official announcements, promises or any other agreements have been made about this and it is also entirely possible the Thai Government simply allows the deadline of the 26 to arrive and begin enforcing the rules. Read about this proposal below.
The Thai Prime Minister himself has stated recently, following a letter that went viral from a German expat to another news media source, that he was concerned with having to send some foreigners back to their countries that had not successfully controlled Covid-19, giving hope to many. There have also been reports of Immigration departments in some parts of the country asking people going to Immigration looking for options to return in or around the fifteenth just in case there was a decision/change/proposal made by the Thai Cabinet and Immigration officials.
Reading social media comments, some people state that at this point almost nobody is truly stranded and has had options to get home. Although that may be true, for many they may choose to stay in Thailand that, officially anyways, does not have widespread local cases of Covid-19 and in which nearly everything is open. Thailand doesn’t have regular strengthening and adjusting of social distance measures like many other countries or rules on how many people can hang out in a household. Bars and nightclubs are open. For some, especially the vulnerable and at risk, staying in Thailand until a vaccine arrives is simply a safer choice for them.
For others, who have the funds, staying in Thailand only benefits the country if the foreigner wants to stay. As foreign tourists will not be allowed in anytime in the near future, at least those on short stay visits, it makes sense to the author to allow those in the country, with the financial support, to stay and support the Thai economy at this difficult time for the country. The number of foreigners still in the country on amnesty is unclear but at one point it was over 250,000 in July. Now, it is likely around 150,000 according to some estimates. Lets say the average foreigner in the country spends, say, 50,000 a baht a month on expenses. Do the math and this is a fairly large number that can only help during this difficult time.
Let me be clear-there should be a process here and not a blanket amnesty like before. Applicants should, in my opinion, have to prove they have the finances to stay. Individuals who are truly stranded without funds will need to reach out to their embassy or loved ones for support but cannot stay forever. Regardless if the government provides the ability to purchase the special tourist visa or another adjustable plan, they should consider providing at least some option for those facing having to leave by September 26.
Yes, by the way, I completely understand that some people who were long time border runners, etc, fall in this category. That is why I believe Immigration should get to review each case, as well as how long they have been in the country on tourist visas, etc along with finances. But, for those who have been stuck here during the pandemic and are Covid-free with the funds and desire to stay….they should be allowed the opportunity.
Adam Judd, September 11, 2020.