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Thai Immigration Bureau pursues visa relief for foreigners

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Foreigners queue in long lines at the Immigration Bureau’s office in Bangkok. Bangkok Post

BANGKOK (Bangkok Post) – Thailand’s Immigration Bureau (IB) plans to seek cabinet approval for a new raft of measures for three different categories of foreigners in Thailand affected by the COVID-19 crisis.

The proposal will be submitted to the cabinet for approval in the coming
week, said Pollice Leutenant General Sompong Ching- duang, chief of the IB.

The proposal was drafted in line with an order by Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha, who has expressed concerns about foreigners who have been left stranded in Thailand after many airlines stopped operating and countries imposed lockdowns, said Pol Lt Gen Sompong.

The foreigners are now divided into three groups: Foreigners with resident visas who normally reside in Thailand but cannot return to Thailand due to the COVID-19 crisis; foreign tourists who are unable to depart Thailand due to the crisis; and visitors from neighbouring countries who hold a temporary border pass and got stuck in Thailand after the borders were shut, he said.

Foreigners in the first group are normally required to return to Thailand within a year of their departure and since they might not be able to re-enter the country in time, the IB will propose extending their compulsory return deadline until after the pandemic subsides, he said.

The extension of the return period would not affect any immigration rights and benefits they usually receive when strictly following the one-year return period requirement, he added.

However, they are advised to return to Thailand as soon as they can after the pandemic subsides.

For foreign tourists in the second group who reported to immigration authorities for a 30-day extension after their visas expired on March 26 or thereafter, their visas will be automatically renewed every 30 days until the pandemic subsides, said Pol Lt Gen Sompong.

“Under the government’s social distancing policy, these tourists will no longer have to visit the immigration bureau and risk contracting the virus in a crowd,” he said.

This proposed measure, however, won’t apply to those foreigners who are working and/or have a family in Thailand. They will still be required to report to immigration authorities regularly, he said.

For visitors from neighbouring countries in the third group, they will be allowed to stay in Thailand until the borders are re-opened, said Pol Lt Gen Sompong, adding they will be required to leave Thailand within seven days after the borders reopen.

The authority to re-open any border lies with the relevant provincial governor, he said.

Other foreigners who are now in Thailand and affected by the COVID-19 crisis, but aren’t covered in the above three categories are advised to adhere to the usual laws, he said.

Earlier last month, Tourism and Sports Minister Phiphat Ratchakitprakarn said there were some 500,000 tourists who would end up overstaying their visas now that countries in Europe have started sealing their borders to deal with COVID-19, preventing entry to their own citizens.

Most of the remaining tourists are long-stay elderly travellers from Germany, Italy and Russia who spend their winters here, said the minister.

They came to Thailand before the virus hit their hometowns and decided not to return home, fearing they would not receive sufficient healthcare in their countries during these trying times but are now left with few options, said Pol Lt Gen Sompong.

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