Cambodian prime minister Hun Sen has urged Asean partners gradually to reopen cross-border travel and trade between countries in the region. At the virtual 36th summit, he stressed that the priority should be the economic supply chain, but added that one of the most impacted sector during the pandemic has been tourism which now “needs attention” as huge visitor income has been lost in the region.
The border closures have meant that provision has been made in all local countries to allow foreigners to remain there without incurring visa overstay problems for the time being. Thailand has given an amnesty until July 31 at least, whilst Cambodia has announced an automatic extension for foreign tourists until “they are able to depart”. Malaysia has a current date of August 31 whilst Myanmar has been publicly quiet on the subject.
It is not known how many foreigners are still stranded in these countries, but some will already have departed to their home countries on the limited, worldwide flights available in all countries except Myanmar where airports remain closed. A spokesperson for the Thai tourist ministry estimated last month there were around 10,000 foreign tourists in the Kingdom taking advantage of the visa amnesty. It could be an under-estimate.
Hun Sen’s remarks indicate that there will be no reopening of Asean land border posts for foreigners anytime soon. The initial pilot stage, not yet formalized, will be the exchange of goods which pushes the chances of foreigners leaving by land well into the autumn at least. This in turn indicates that foreigners currently in Thailand hoping to cross into a neighboring country to obtain a Thai visa are likely to be disappointed for the near future.
With land borders still blocked and air travel by no means back to normal, it is likely that all affected countries, including Thailand, will extend – in some form or other – their amnesty for stranded foreigners beyond July 31. Whether each country will maintain its own policy or seek to align on a regional basis is an issue currently being debated by the governments in question. Don’t expect any answers before late in the month.