There is growing evidence that Pattaya simply does not house thousands, or even hundreds, of non-Thais quivering in their shoes about what might happen to them after September 26. This is the date the Thai government has fixed for the end of the six months’ visa amnesty for those whose visa expired later than March 25 and have been trapped in Thailand because of travel difficulties. Most long-term expats already had one year visas or extensions of stay and have been renewing in the normal way at immigration as their permits have expired.
Immigration authorities have already announced that two categories of foreigners will be allowed a further 30 days extension on payment of the 1,900 baht fee if they can produce a letter from their embassy (confirming return would be impossible or difficult) or confirmation from a hospital that they are too sick to travel. These exemptions date from September 27 and can be repeated with the same documentation, if necessary, the following month and even thereafter.
Other amnesty beneficiaries have been able to obtain a new 90 days non-immigrant “O” visa at an immigration bureau which will enable continued stay almost until the new year. These include those with Thai spouses and/or dependents who have been able to produce documents to persuade immigration authorities of their individual case, Elite visa applicants, some categories of registered volunteers, holders of the hi-tech (sunrise industries) visa and some foreigners in the field of education. However, some non-qualified foreigners may have been able to obtain a new 90 days permit from local visa agents on payment of a lump sum, according to reports. Nothing new there.
Some commentators have remarked on the large number of foreigners in the Pattaya area who appear to come from neighboring countries (Cambodia, Laos and Myanmar). But these are virtually always labourers working in the construction, fishing and retail industries who come under different regulations and are not subject to a September 26 deadline. They are registered with the Foreign Worker Employment Agency, represented in Chonburi by the Chang Pattaya Service Company. A spokesman told Pattaya Mail, “At the moment there is actually a shortage of these workers because those wishing to return to Thailand are subject to the unpopular 14-days quarantine.” Absolutely nothing to do with the visa amnesty.
Other commentators have suggested that there are countless foreign students in Pattaya who were unable to return to their home countries because of travel difficulties created by the coronavirus pandemic. But university spokespeople don’t seem to agree. One, at Thammasat University, commented in a phone interview, “We don’t know who these trapped people might be.” Staff and students currently abroad are returning to Thailand provided they obtain a certificate of entry from their local Thai embassy which requires substantial paperwork and comprehensive medical insurance worth at least US$100,000.
The only other category of foreigners would be general tourists whose visa expired after March 25 and who benefitted from two free extensions, one to July 31 and the later one to September 26. But how many of us those are still here? Pattaya Mail asked several foreigners eating at cafes in Pattaya’s Soi Buakhao area which is popular with modest-income expats. We were told that most of the visa amnesty beneficiaries had already left for Britain, Ireland and mainland Europe (the principal destinations) as they did not believe the amnesty would be extended for a third time beyond September 26. However, it’s fair to point out this was not a scientific inquiry.
If these findings are correct, the principal groups now left in Pattaya and hoping for a further extension are a diminishing number of foreigners who can’t afford the airfare home and an unknown number of aliens whose visa expired before March 26 and are thus already on substantial overstay. As has been the case for many years, overstayers are subject to arrest, fines and finally deportation once a friend or an embassy has funded the flight home. Neither of these groups is likely to have the financial resources to help Pattaya recover fromits tourist doldrums. They are not big spenders.
There will certainly be those who give a huge sigh of relief if the Thai government relents and extends the amnesty again. Certainly in Pattaya, however, that theoretical total number may be much smaller than often claimed.If there are thousands of tourists hoping to live in Thailand visa-free forever, they are certainly keeping a low profile. Very low indeed.